Students ask questions on school safety, gun control

U.S. Rep. Lisa Blunt Rochester (D-Delaware) recently spoke before 280 eighth-graders at Redding Middle School and took questions from the students, including on the issues of school safety and gun control.

In the auditorium at the March 29 forum, students lined up to ask Rochester questions. One female student asked, “I want to know what do you think about the safety of our schools. Do you think we need more protection in schools?”

 Rochester said to the student audience, “I’m going to ask you, just by the show of hands. Do you feel safe in school?”

 Many students said “no” out loud. And, when Rochester asked for a show of hands again, only a few students showed their hands to signify that they feel safe in school. Most students didn’t raise their hands.

 She asked the student who posed the question what she thought about school safety and if she feels safe. “Nay. I don’t trust nobody. I’m sorry,” said the female student with a smile.

Rochester is a member of the U.S. House Committee on Education and the Workforce where the members asked the chairperson to hold hearings on school safety.

“One of the first things we were able to pass was a piece of legislation to allow us to even study [gun violence]. We couldn’t even study gun violence for the past 20 years. It’s been prohibited,” Rochester said.

Rochester said she wants to hear from the students on the issue and she is working on legislation about it. “But the reality is we need Congress people to actually come together and allow us to vote on these things. So, we’ll be in touch on that.”

During the week Rochester visited Redding Middle, she also visited three high schools and talked about school safety.

“We talked [about] teachers being armed. Most people said to us, ‘No, we are not interested in that.’ We talked about metal detectors. Is that the climate and environment we want to create? I don’t know. Right now, this is a process of getting information,” Rochester said.

During her talk at Redding Middle, she responded to a question from a student about a ban on assault weapons.

“We have a second amendment right to bear arms that was intended at that time for that purpose and people still have that right. But an assault weapon, you have to ask yourself, ‘What’s the purpose of the weapon?’” Rochester said.

She dismissed the assault weapon’s use for hunting because shooting an animal with the weapon makes the animal inedible.

“This one [issue] is pretty clear to me. I think it’s common sense,” she said about banning assault weapons. Her answer drew applause from the audience.

During her speech, Rochester gave a pep talk to the students by using her life as an example.

Her first job was at McDonald’s on Market Street in Wilmington and eventually she became Delaware’s first African American Congress member and the first female one at the same time.

Previously, she served in the cabinets of two Delaware governors as the first female African-American secretary of labor, the first African-American deputy secretary of Health and Social Services and state personnel director.

“I just want you guys to know that anything is possible. Anything is possible,” Rochester said.

In all, the students thought up 300 questions to ask the congresswoman. Some students asked multiple questions each.

The questions were narrowed down to avoid duplication and they ranged in topic, from the electoral college to the NRA to the minimum wage. At the end of the forum, there were some students in line and their questions couldn’t be answered because Rochester had another appointment. The forum lasted about an hour.

When asked about the students after the forum, Rochester said, “They epitomize what we need right now—curiosity, a willingness to hear and get a new perspective. I have to highlight Mrs. [Patti] Pyle and teachers. You created the environment and opportunity for this forum.”

Pyle, an eighth-grade social studies teacher and social studies department chairperson, organized the event.

“We are learning about the Constitution. We are discussing civil responsibility and we feel it’s important for our students to see and interact with our elected officials to understand that their voice matters and part of our democracy that we ask questions and engage in our government,” Pyle said.

Preston Kifer, an eighth-grader, enjoyed the forum with Rochester. “It was inspiring. She said, ‘Anything is possible’”