Michele Gay: School safety lessons from tragedy

School safety advocate Michele Gay says she feels “compelled to share with folks and the country” the lessons she learned following the death of her 7-year-old daughter Josephine, a victim of the Sandy Hook Elementary school shooting in 2012.

Gay, a former elementary school teacher, shared those lessons with attendees during Monday’s general session at NSBA’s Annual Conference in Philadelphia.

“We had a culture of safety in our sweet little town,” said Gay, but it did not have an effective communications system to get critical news to parents. Nor did teachers and other school members have a way to “communicate with the good guys” while they waited for help.

With Alissa Parker, the mother Emilie Parker, also killed in the Sandy Hook School tragedy, Gay co-founded the nonprofit Safe and Sound Schools to raise awareness about how to better protect schools.

Areas that Gay said schools and districts should focus on to make schools safe include mental health and behavior; health and wellness; physical environment; school law, policy and finance; culture, climate and community; and operations and emergency management.

Family, faith, and friends were essential to helping Gay and her family “get on the long road” of recovery after Josephine’s death, she says.

Although the families affected by an event like Sandy Hook are often considered a group, “no two people are the same after a tragedy,” she added. “We are all very different in how we move forward.” Rethinking school safety offered a “a positive focus that helped” her get through the ordeal.

That work and being inspired by her Josephine’s persistence and “never give up” attitude keep her going, Gay said. Josephine “woke up with a smile” every day, her mother says. “She was a remarkable little lady.”


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