Tuesday, September 16, 2014

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Community forum addresses gun violence in schools

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Albany/HV: Community forum addresses gun violence in schools
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The issue of gun violence, school safety and mental health are under the microscope in the wake of the Newtown shooting massacre in Connecticut and with the passage of the SAFE Act in New York State. YNN’s Matt Hunter reports on a community forum to address those very issues.

BALLSTON SPA, N.Y. – In the words of mother of three Christina Rajotte, the present time can be a scary one to raise children, with news of deadly shootings like the one at Sandy Hook Elementary School appearing in headlines.

"It's actually very chilling when you ask your children, 'What do you guys do during a lockdown drill?'" Rajotte said.

Rajotte, whose three sons attend Shenendehowa, was one of more than 100 people to attend a public forum on protecting children from gun violence Thursday night in Ballston Spa.

Organized by the League of Women Voters of Albany, Schenectady and Saratoga counties, it brought together experts from the local education, law enforcement and mental health professions to discuss the complicated issue.

"If we had waited until another school shooting, I think we all would have felt like we have blood on our hands because we didn't do anything," League of Women Voters President Patricia Nugent said.

"I believe all of us are here tonight because we feel we have a collective responsibility to ensure we support that goal," said New York State Unified Teachers Vice President Kathleen Donahue, one of the panelists.

While much of the forum focused on keeping students safe in school, panelist Dr. L. Oliver Robinson, superintendent of the Shenendehowa Central School District, was quick sure to point out that only about one percent of school aged children who die as a result of gun violence are actually killed in schools. He fears that taking too many precautions could have undesired consequences.

"Please, let's not get to a point where our schools stop being schools and start to feel like a correctional institution,” Robinson told the audience. “That's not the place where our kids learn and thrive."

Following the panel discussion, the forum was opened up to questions from the audience.

While some believe the community wide conversation should've started sooner, most are gratified it's now reached the forefront.

"I think it's important that these dialogues not only be a onetime event, but something that continues," Robinson said.

"This is one dialogue and this is a good start, but again, we can't stop there," Rajotte said.

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