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Superintendent's News

Posted: August 17, 2021

Keeping Students, Staff Safe

A letter to the APS community from Superintendent Scott Elder following the shooting at Washington Middle School

Dear APS Community, 

I don’t sleep well, worrying about the safety and wellbeing of our students. For months, the pandemic kept me up at night as I fretted over the return of in-person learning.

Just as we were feeling cautiously optimistic about opening our campuses last week, our worst nightmare turned to gun violence. We are reeling from the shock and heartache of the tragic shooting at Washington Middle School, even as COVID cases continue to rise and we work to keep our students and staff healthy.

I can’t stop thinking about the eighth-grader whose life ended so violently and way too soon. Nor about his classmate – just a child, really – accused of pulling the trigger and now facing murder charges. I agonize for their schoolmates, some of whom witnessed this horrible, isolated incident. And for their teachers, school staff, families, neighbors, first responders, counselors, community leaders, and everyone else devastated by this tragic event.

We all keep asking why this happened. What could we have done to prevent it? How do we keep something like this from occurring again? And will we ever be the same?

I knew before Friday that gun violence at schools was a devasting reality in our nation. I had read about it, watched the videos with horror, shared thoughts and prayers for victims and survivors. But until a few days ago, Albuquerque Public Schools had never been through anything like this.

That doesn’t mean we aren’t prepared. Every one of our schools has a site safety plan in place. On Friday, Washington's plan went into action immediately as staff whisked kids to safety at the first sign of trouble, and students responded with grace and courage. Law enforcement secured our campus. We activated our communications tools to inform families and the community. District administrators stepped in to reunite students with parents and guardians. Offers of community assistance poured in.

On Monday, we canceled classes at Washington, so students, staff, and families in need of support could meet with crisis counselors. Those APS counselors were there when students returned to school on Tuesday and will remain on campus as long as needed. We also increased police presence to help students and staff feel more secure. And we are working with investigators on gathering information, encouraging witnesses to come forward. The community will be better able to heal when it has more facts.

You may have heard that some Washington students saw the gun on campus earlier in the day but kept it a secret. We all must continue to remind students that they need to say something if they see something. After many months of distance learning, we also have to earn their trust, which may take time as we get reacquainted. Schools need to go back to serving as safe havens for our students. We have to make every one of them feel welcome, wanted, and respected.

Over the years, APS has been working to increase school safety by implementing active shooter training, installing locks, improving fencing, limiting building access, updating alarm and camera systems. These ongoing efforts didn't prevent this tragedy, but they may very well have kept it from being much worse.

We will continue to do all we can to keep our students and staff safe, whether from contagious viruses or deadly weapons. We appreciate everyone’s support in this endeavor. 

Respectfully,

Scott Elder, Superintendent
Albuquerque Public Schools