Why Do We Really Have Hall Passes?

With a lack of government action in response to gun violence, schools have taken safety into their own hands.

11 mins read

This story is syndicated from Knightly News, the newspaper of Hume Fogg High School in Nashville, TN.

On the first day of school, every student at Hume-Fogg sat through 7 hours of instruction in seven different classes, only to learn one thing: our new school policy. It was taught as follows: First, you must sign out and take a hall pass with you whenever you wish to leave the classroom. Second, only one student may leave the classroom at a time. Third, the doors must remain locked and closed at all times. Fourth, for security reasons, Hume-Fogg Alumni are no longer allowed to visit the school during lunch. Fifth, in the event of a shooting, you must go to the designated safe corner in your classroom to avoid being seen from the door. Sixth, if necessary, attack the active shooter with all your strength and go for their gun. Finally, if your friend is wounded, do not be a hero. Leave them behind. 

Teachers received active aggressor training, students were taught which classroom items would make the best weapons for self defense, and school became a military fortress. The students have turned into soldiers fighting for survival, and the teachers became our sergeants, leading us into battle. We were told that these regulations were put in place for our safety, that using the restroom is a privilege, and that we should do what the state thinks is best. Why should I sit and listen to the state, when, while I am learning how to survive a day at school, they stubbornly refuse to pass legislation that could save my life entirely?

Tennessee had a tragic wake-up call to the gun violence epidemic that plagues our nation with the Covenant shooting in March of 2023, yet despite the outrage from broken-hearted witnesses across the state, our government still refused to take any action to prevent more shootings from happening in the future. After months of protests from outraged Nashvillians, the state legislature finally conceded to holding a special session to address public safety, mental health, and gun violence; however it was clear that the state had no intention of making any real progress with this session even before it started. Gloria Johnson shared her experience with me as a member of the House who actively participated in the Special Session – or at least attempted to. “We heard that it was going to happen, we knew that the governor had somewhat of an ERPO bill (Extreme Risk Protection Order Bill), but it didn’t really have any teeth in it,” Gloria explained. She claimed that she came ready to debate relevant legislation, but when the time came, the state legislature didn’t allow firearms to be discussed. It was, as Gloria put it, “A betrayal of Tennessee Families.”

Not only did the state legislature refuse to address things like red-flag laws and universal background checks that would prevent guns from ever entering schools, they actually passed legislation that invited firearms in. Members in the Tennessee House of Representatives proposed House Bill 7064, which would have allowed retired or current law enforcement and members of the armed forces, as well as anyone with an enhanced handgun carry permit to bring guns on school campuses or anywhere students are present, without even notifying school staff or administration. Why would you attempt to decrease gun violence in schools by arming people with more guns, when it has been proven time and again that more guns means more violence?

Representative Gloria Johnson shared with me what she witnessed while watching her fellow legislators debate this bill, and it goes to show how little the government understands the lasting effects that school shootings have on students and their families. Gloria quoted the sponsor of this bill, Representative Chris Todd’s address to the parents of the children lost in the Covenant shooting. She claimed that he attempted to reason with them by saying, “If the shooter didn’t have a gun, then the shooter would just run over the children on the playground.” Several of the parents he addressed ran out of the room in tears. That bill and bills like it, which put a bandaid over a literal bullet hole, are not really intended to help students whose lives are in danger, but to line the pockets of politicians and gun associations in Tennessee. The failed Special Session hosted last month is a blatant example of how short sighted our state government is when it comes to saving students’ lives.  The only way to put an end to school shootings is to address the real cause for gun violence in schools: guns themselves. 

Even while the state of Tennessee has stood idly by, schools have taken safety matters into their own hands, especially here in Nashville. I had the opportunity to speak with the MNPS Director of Schools, Dr. Battle, on the issue of gun violence in schools, and how she has used her position to protect students. She explained to me how Metro Nashville Public Schools and the Metro Nashville Police Department have made many strides in fortifying public schools against gun violence, especially since the Covenant shooting last March. There are now more MNPD officers present at every school, clear procedures for what to do in the event of an active shooting, and new school regulations that keep students and teachers in their classrooms whenever possible. While implementations like these are an important step in protecting students, she also acknowledged that it is not enough, though the government likes to pretend like it is. Dr. Battle expressed, “ I do believe the measures we have put in place represent a significant enhancement of our safety protocols and procedures… Unfortunately, there has been a failure at a state level to address the root causes of gun violence.” Throughout our interaction, she repeated the idea that a society without gun violence means schools without gun violence, which is why it is so important that MNPS and the Tennessee State Legislature don’t simply put locks on school doors, but that they also pass crucial gun control legislation that means no one will be attempting to knock down those locked doors with an AR 15 in hand anytime soon. 

To conclude our interview, Gloria Johnson shared these powerful words, “They act as if… Well, Cain killed Abel with a rock, so you can kill someone with a rock. Well I’ll bet you a million dollars those covenant parents would have preferred that that person came in with rocks instead of an AR 15. Because if somebody came in with rocks, those kids would be alive today, and so would the staff.” 

While most students sit through school, cursing our administration, or the school board for our new regulations, these words echo through my mind as I reflect on the real reason our school has turned into a fortress. The blame should not fall on students, or administration, or even the school board themselves, but on our State Government. It is their failure to pass common sense gun laws and prioritize the lives of children over the carrying of guns and assault rifles that has put students in a position where their school feels like a prison in which they are forced to put their life on the line every single day. So, when you roll your eyes at the sign-out sheet by the door, or complain about the bathroom pass that accompanies you through the halls each day, remember whose fault it is that these things exist. Remind our legislators that it is not our responsibility to fend for ourselves while the government pretends that it isn’t their own fault that children are dying in schools across the state. There is absolutely nothing normal about the threat of guns in schools. The moment we allow this to become our new normal is the moment that they have won.

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