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Dozens of people surrounded a pop-up runway on Boston City Hall Plaza Monday to watch a back-to-school fashion show -- of sorts.
Rather than sporting the newest jeans and graphic tees, the student models wore Kevlar helmets, caution tape belts and bulletproof vests.
"This young man here has a helmet [and] a bullhorn in case he just has to warn somebody there is a shooting here at the school," announced James Hills, an activist and emcee of the event.
One of the models was 17-year-old Kiara DeJesus from Lawrence.
"The youth should not be scared to go to school every day," Kiara said. "We think that a bulletproof vest shouldn’t be a first thing on a parent’s checklist for their child."
This is the latest demonstration in this state since the Valentine’s Day mass shooting in Parkland, Florida -- from student walkouts in Somerville to the massive March for Our Lives rally and this past weekend’s 50-mile march from Worcester to the Smith & Wesson headquarters in Springfield. There, students called on the company to stop producing assault-style weapons.
At the fashion show, Kiara’s mom, Nydia DeJesus, said she only started to worry about whether her daughter was safe in school over the last few years.
"Way back when I was in school, that wasn’t the case," she said. "This is a very new fear that has [arisen]."
And she’s not the only one who feels this way. According to a Gallup and Phi Delta Kappa poll in May, roughly 34 percent of parents say safety in school is a big concern -- a threefold increase in five years.
Glenn Koocher, the executive director of the Massachusetts Association of School Committees, adds it’s not just guns that have students and parents worried.
"They’re concerned about safety on the school buses, safety of the roads and safety of the buildings," Koocher said.
And recently these feelings have been turning into action on a large scale. Gov. Charlie Baker’s administration wants to send $72 million to the public school system to improve safety policy. And in May, the governor signed what’s known as a “red flag” bill, which allows a judge to take away firearms from a person found to be at risk of harming themselves or others.
Koocher adds safety is also top of mind for school administrators.
"A lot of our districts have ratcheted up the level of security in their buildings," he said.
But it’s more than just policy that’s changing. Those bulletproof school accessories that the activists were using to make a political point -- well, some of them are becoming more mainstream. You can now find bulletproof backpack inserts on major retailer websites like Walmart, Home Depot and Office Depot.
And while anxiety and activism have been on the rise, incidents like mass school shootings remain rare.
"There are relatively few of them, as serious as they are," Koocher said.
And as NPR is reporting, they may even be over-reported. According to the investigation, the U.S. Department of Education dramatically overstated the number of school shootings during the 2015-'16 school year.
Still, Koocher says, the attention on school shootings has resulted in what he considers a lot of positive school policy, like a push for more school psychologists and counselors on campus.
This segment aired on August 28, 2018.
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