Safety of the kids comes first, before everything

For 10 years P.F. (pre-fatherhood), I was in first grade. Every Friday. That's when yours truly, my wife Karin and Day sports pal Vickie Fulkerson embarked on the ever-noble endeavor of helping first-graders with their reading and writing at the Lillie B. Haynes Elementary School in Niantic.

We volunteered for our first-grade teacher, Mrs. Currier. She is now the retired Dede Currier, a friend for life. We listened to the kids, encouraged them, teased them, paid attention to them, helped where we could, refereed on occasion and loved their company.

They made us want to be first-graders again.

They are in middle school, high school and college now, no longer little first-graders. But that's how I will remember them. Always. They will always be my little kids.

Matt Binaco attends college at Virginia Commonwealth. Jane Bartlett is the goalie for the girls' lacrosse team at East Lyme High. Nick Geary plays football and basketball there. They'll always be first-graders to me. So will Emma and Aayma, Tyler and Gino, Isabella and Truely, Adrianna and Puja.

And it is through the prism of their faces, their voices and their innocence that I saw the massacre at Sandy Hook Elementary in Newtown.

For two weeks, I've been preoccupied by their faces. Their memories. The morbid thoughts of "what if?" I'd been in 10 years' worth of first grades. What if it had been our class? How do you cope?

The same kids who died two weeks ago have the same thoughts, demeanors, personalities and dreams as the kids who chanted "no cuts, no buts, no coconuts" at me for 10 years.

I am haunted by it all.

And it has triggered some thoughts as we try to move forward. It's been hard to move forward, admittedly, amid the cacophony of soapbox sermonizers spewing their views on guns with the urgency of Paul Revere.

Let's begin there.

Message to the gun-toting, arm-the-teachers, arm-the-world crowd who can't merely quote the Second Amendment verbatim, but is only too happy to accept its most literal interpretation: I am tired of you. So is the rest of the world. You scare us.

Message to the anti-gun cluster, the zealots on the other side, who won't acknowledge even a recreational capacity - hunting, target shooting - for guns: I am tired of you. So is the rest of the world. You annoy us.

This message is aimed at the thinking members of society, we who can find our way to the town green and talk to each other, rather than shout damnation.

What befell Sandy Hook Elementary was the confluence of a disordered mind with bad intentions and a culture that cultivates too much violence and too many guns. No one thing can fight that.

But schools need School Resource Officers, school-based law enforcement officers. Surely, they'd provide a better sense of security, illustrating that good guys carry guns, too. But there's a deeper significance. School Resource Officers build relationships with children they perceive as at-risk. They won't reach every child. But they can reach at least some of them. That's a start.

And before you lapse into some idealistic drivel suggesting it's the job of the parents, not the School Resource Officer, come back from Utopia. Ask yourself: How are parents are doing so far?

The question becomes funding. How do we pay for resource officers? Because as sure as we've heard from wingnuts on either side of gun issues, we'll hear from the next most irritating segment of our society: the aggrieved, overburdened taxpayers. They're the townsfolk who thought it was just swell when schools were funded properly while their kids were in school, but now find it a bigger affront to society than Apartheid.

Find me one Board of Education with some guts that will, during the next budget cycle, earmark all money that would have gone to extracurriculars (sports, music, etc.) and instead use it to defray the cost of system-wide School Resource Officers. All schools and school systems need them. Don't you dare think that because you live in suburbia your school is immune. Sandy Hook and Columbine provide pretty damning evidence.

And what becomes of extracurriculars? They all become pay-to-participate. I know. I've railed against pay-to-participate since right about the time the American League went to the designated hitter. I'm a sports guy.

But circumstances change. Specials, quite clearly, are part of the educational process. But there is no educational process without a baseline of security in our schools with law enforcement officers who are also trained to identify and help problem children.

I'm not suggesting School Resource Officers solve everything. But they contribute to safer environments. That's priority one. They're kids. They need protection.

This is the opinion of Day sports columnist Mike DiMauro.


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