Sense of Safety Shattered in a Day: The Cruel Reality of Schools in America


Hadley Norris

Amid threats of violence at Westwood High School, students are questioning the importance of education over safety.


Fear is the best word to describe the ghostly grip that has taken hold of the Westwood community since Thursday, Sept. 15, when the first official safety update reached student emails regarding threats made to the campus. Rumors had been circulating for the past week but it wasn’t until that Thursday that a picture of alarming graffiti in one of the boys’ bathrooms spread throughout the student body.

Crudely written across a stall were threats regarding Tuesday, Sept. 20, with references to guns and bombs alongside a warning to stay home. Yet, two chilling words made the threat feel different than others. “Stop erasing,” was at the centerpiece of the graffiti, implying a higher level of seriousness to these threats. Whether this was the writer’s intention or not, it clearly came across as being something much more than just a joke.

In a matter of hours, students along with parents began to fearfully question the safety of Westwood High School. To address this rising panic, Principal Erin Campbell released a safety update to the community before canceling the pep rally scheduled for Friday, Sept. 16. In this update was a mention of previous graffiti from a week earlier as well as a threat-level assessment being conducted by administration and School Resource Officers.

Those two words yet again hit like a punch. Graffiti had already been discovered and likely covered up but the writer was committed enough to it that they decided to write it again. Now with the threats confirmed by administration, a haunting question settled in the student body. Should I risk my safety for my education?

This is a question that nobody, no child, no student, no parent, should ever have to ask themselves. Children, five to six year-olds, shouldn’t be learning about how to hide from an active shooter while learning about letters. Students shouldn’t be sitting in class, trying to determine if the noise down the hall was gunshots. Parents shouldn’t be wondering if their child passed their geometry test or had to sit silently in a dark classroom away from all doors and windows. This shouldn’t be our reality.

Unfortunately though, it is. Even more unfortunate, there’s no easy solution to it. Mental health, especially among teenagers, has severely declined over the past couple of years. According to a World Health Organization survey taken in 2021, 1 in 7 adolescents experience mental disorders. New resources are emerging for those struggling but it still doesn’t combat the overwhelming numbers of people wrestling with their mental health.

And at the same time, the rate of mass shootings across the United States has steadily increased in recent years according to the Gun Violence Archive. The issue of little gun regulation is becoming more and more apparent to the American public, especially in Texas after the tragedy of Uvalde mere months ago. This has led many to call gun regulations into question, only to be met with resistance by some government officials and legislators.

In the case of Uvalde, the 18 year-old gunman had purchased two AR-15 style rifles and 375 rounds of ammunition right before entering Robb Elementary School with them. Under Texas law, this was all legal as the age requirement is only 18 and the state doesn’t require a license for carrying firearms in public. No 18 year-old should have easy access to semi-automatic weapons without proper screening, paperwork or at the very least, a license.

When pressed on the issue of age restrictions for gun handling from the families of Uvalde victims, Texas Governor Greg Abbott evaded the question before going on to ensure that they’d do everything to make sure a tragedy like Uvalde would never happen again. How can you ensure this when guns are loosely managed, often falling into the hands of the wrong people? More extensive background checks wouldn’t hurt gun owners, it would merely secure them more. It’s the ridiculously easy accessibility to weapons of war that has led to many of these tragedies across the United States. While mental health won’t simply improve with heavier gun regulations, it would be providing a wider safety net so that Uvalde will never happen again.

The day before Sept. 20th, many students remained at home out of fear. On Sept. 20th, even more students choose to stay clear of the Westwood campus. Later that day, Ms. Campbell once again sent out a safety update, informing the community that the police had identified a suspect and that the threat had been mitigated.

Even with this news though, a new question has presented itself. Were we truly at risk? I hate to say it, but I think the answer is yes. I want to believe that this situation was just a joke, I want to believe that things would’ve been okay if administration and police didn’t step in. The truth is, we don’t know. We won’t know, and it’s likely that this uncertainty will remain in the Westwood community.

We might never be able to walk the hallways without thinking of the best escape plan. We might never be able to sit in class without thinking about what to do if something did happen. We might never be able to think of school the same way we used to. Fear has caused this uncertainty, leaving only more questions than we ever wanted. This fear won’t go away as long as easy access to weapons of war continues. To keep these guns, is to keep the dilemma between safety and education.