Roe meetings on school safety should be open to the public

Editorial Board • Jun 7, 2018 at 4:00 PM

“There is nothing more important than protecting our children,” said President Trump in the wake of the Parkland, Florida, school shooting. Even before that tragic day, communities nationwide were having conversations over the dinner table, in barber shops and in school board rooms about how to best do that. Fortunately, the frequency of those conversations has not diminished. Instead, they have ramped up.

In our region, U.S. Rep. Phil Roe is leading that conversation. Unfortunately, he’s doing it out of the public eye and behind closed doors.

Roe held a meeting with educators and others at the Hawkins County Education Training Center at Rogersville April 5 to listen to their concerns in the aftermath of the Parkland shooting. He held another May 30 at the Kingsport Center for Higher Education.

Both are public buildings, but the public wasn’t welcome for either meeting. Those meetings were generally closed to the media, but we asked to come into both meetings and were able to get a few of the exchanges between Roe and educators.

Roe told us that the discussion at Rogersville involved the need for more armed resource officers, building security and mental health outreach, and indeed, those are the primary elements of the national conversation about school safety. Perhaps Roe believed educators and other professionals might be reluctant to speak if the public, or the media, were present. That’s a tired, old and overused smokescreen, especially when it comes to educators. In our experience, they are some of the most informed and articulate of professionals and they are not afraid to voice their opinions in any setting. To think our — or your — presence would stifle the conversation is nothing more than a power play and a groundless argument.

At Kingsport, Roe said the discussion “quickly got into mental health issues ... the solutions are going to be found locally.” But they’re not going to be found locally if Roe doesn’t involve local residents and hear their ideas. The Kingsport meeting, Roe said, “was one of the best meetings I’ve been to.” We’re delighted he found it so informative. We wish you could have been there.

This should be a public, not private, discussion about one of the most important issues of the day. The congressman should hold open, public meetings on this most public issue. If he’s afraid of an open forum and facing his constituents — all of his constituents — maybe he should think again about running for another term if he’s clearly unwilling to listen to those he represents.

While Rep. Roe hasn’t given you the chance to publicly voice your thoughts about how to improve school safety, we will. Please send your letters to the editor to the Times-News at 701 Lynn Garden Dr., Kingsport, or email to [email protected]

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