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Safety First on Education Week in Commonwealth

PHOTO: As part of American Education Week, Dennis Van Roekel of the National Education Association meets with schoolchildren. The Massachusetts Teachers Association and NEA are acknowledging the role played by school workers outside the classrooms in student safety. Photo courtesy NEA
PHOTO: As part of American Education Week, Dennis Van Roekel of the National Education Association meets with schoolchildren. The Massachusetts Teachers Association and NEA are acknowledging the role played by school workers outside the classrooms in student safety. Photo courtesy NEA
November 20, 2013

NORTHAMPTON, Mass. - With the anniversary of the Sandy Hook Elementary School shooting coming up next month, safety is a coincidental part of this week's American Education Week celebration, begun 92 years ago by the National Education Association.

The NEA and the Massachusetts Teachers Association will co-sponsor a second annual School Safety Summit with the Northwestern District Attorney's office in Northampton.

Despite violent incidents stretching back to the 1999 shootings at Columbine High School in Littleton, Colo., NEA president Dennis van Roekel said schools remain the safest places for students to be.

"We need to do everything we can to diminish these horrible things that are happening," he said, "but we also have to recognize how, right now, it is still the safest place for students."

Van Roekel said custodians, cafeteria workers, secretaries, bus drivers and other school workers sometimes are on the front line when schools and students are threatened. He praised the heroic actions of many who have risked their lives. These Education Support Professionals, or ESPs, will be honored by dignitaries who will serve students meals alongside lunchroom staff at John F. Kennedy Middle School in Northampton.

Van Roekel hailed the unselfish acts of some school professionals.

"When you look at the crises we've faced over the years, they're often one of the first people there," he said. "We need to say 'thank you' and to recognize that, no matter what role you play in a school, if you're an adult, you have a responsibility."

In addition to backing state and federal legislation to reduce gun violence and pursuing anti-bullying campaigns in schools, he said the NEA calls for a greater investment in counseling and mental-health services for students.

"Sadly, in these tough economic times, those are the programs that are too often cut," he said, "and this is an opportunity to highlight the importance of those."

On Thursday, Van Roekel will join MTA president Paul Toner at an event in an Everett school featuring celebrities including former Boston Celtics standout Dana Barros and Boston Red Sox mascot Wally the Green Monster.

A schedule of events is online at massteacher.org.

Mark Scheerer, Public News Service - MA