Friday, December 14, 2012

NH Co. School Board Member Tammy Covil: 'How Do We Protect Our Own Children From This?'

By Verne Strickland / December 15, 2012

Connecticut school shooting claims nearly 30 lives,

The stunning and tragic events in Connecticut are rippling through school systems across the United States. What went wrong? How could it happen? How can similar catastrophies be averted?

We went to new New Hanover School Board member Tammy Covil with these questions, to view the puzzling events of Friday through a local perspective.

These are excerpts of my exclusive interview with Ms. Covil on Friday for USA DOT COM:


VS: What was your first reaction upon learning of this horrific mass murder of school children and others at Sandy Hook Elementary School in Connecticut?

COVIL:  My initial reaction was shock.  And when I first saw the report of the number of people killed, I wasn’t sure it was accurate. I was very surprised. As a parent I reacted as any parent would – it was just a heartbreaking situation and my heart goes out to those parents who lost their children, which I could not imagine in any shape or form. Could not imagine how they’re coping at this point. Of course my prayers go out to them. That was my initial reaction. The situation is still fluid, and I’ve been getting reports today on a regular basis, so I don’t think we will have all the information about this tragedy for days yet. 

VS: Do you see national implications in this? This is not the first mass shooting that has occurred in the United States. Is this a threat that all school districts everywhere need to learn about, and at least devise plans to cope with a similar situation in their own area?

COVIL: I think we need to be careful and not have a major reaction, because usually when something like this happens, the first cry you hear is from gun control advocates. Of course I’m not hinting that guns be allowed in the school system. But the person who is accused of doing this is obviously unstable and was determined to inflict as much damage as he could. It’s my understanding from media reports that his mother works at the school and so had access to the school. And it’s a certainty the security didn’t know of his plans, and so buzzed him in. 

VS: I know your mind must leap forward to consider how a school board can look to forestall a repeat of this horrific occurrence.

COVIL: Of course your first thought is how do we protect our children from situations like this, and take steps and measures to assure their safety, but we can’t fully ward off all threats, because there are truly evil people in this world who will commit crimes like this, so my concern would be more from a mental health standpoint. This individual obviously had serious health problems, so I am interested in discovering problems like this before they precipitate an issue like this.

VS: I appreciate your cautious attitude, and refusing to jump to conclusions before all the information and evidence is in. You know, there seem to be gun control advocates who feel that the danger is in the weapon, not in the person who wields it. Is that perhaps a somewhat simplistic solution for a complex problem?

COVIL: You’re exactly right. We can’t ever fully control the actions of others. Those who say we should strip the rights of citizens to own a firearm is going to extremes. Criminals do not follow the law. That’s pretty obvious. They’re going to employ whatever means they deem necessary to accomplish their aims. That does not necessarily mean the use of a gun. No guns would not equal no injury or violent death. For example, the terrorist on 9/11. They chose planes as weapons. Of course they were able to commandeer the planes and fly them into buildings. Once they were in the air they had complete control. There are people in this world who are going to attempt things like this, so I would rather see the innocent have the opportunity to defend themselves rather than strip them of their rights. That’s just not the way to go. It’s certainly not constitutional. 

VS: Some of the national news reporters who weighed in on this, and I agree with them, said the attacker arrived on the scene prepared to kill and inflict damage. He did not wonder if he could or should do this, but got right to his horrendous task. A person in that frame of mind is going to be very difficult to stop, wouldn’t you think?
COVIL: Oh, absolutely. But my concern is there had to be warning signs that something was amiss. Something was happening in this man’s life that had totally destabilized him. We saw it in the mass shooting at the movie theatre. The shooter there, as well as in this massacre in Connecticut, had already launched his attack when he arrived. He was determined to do damage and destruction. It was too late then to reason with him in any way. There had to be some signs obvious to someone that he was dangerous and out of control. I don’t know who would have been in position to discover this and take action – maybe someone at the school, or a friend of member of the family. I don’t know. But we need to be more vigilant. We need to know what we’re looking for. That would be an important deterrent.
VS: But, you know, we can turn every school campus into an armed encampment, with guards patrolling and carrying loaded guns. It’s just not reasonable or even possible, is it?

COVIL: No, and something like that would give you a false sense of security. For instance, the news media said this particular school had security measures in place. If you came to the school and were visiting the school, you were buzzed in. But he knew how to manipulate that system. He knew how go get inside the building. And so, you still have to have procedures in place in the event that the basic safeguards fail. Preparedness is key. 

VS: His mother, as you and I know, was employed at the school, and she was killed at her home. She surely knew how to use a key or a card to disarm the security system. It seems probable that’s how he may have gotten in. 

COVIL: Quite possibly. But this young man had so much going wrong in his life. I mourn for his mother. I can’t imagine raising children, then having them turn around and do such frightful things. We don’t know what was going on in her mind and her world leading up to this event. I just pray for her soul. 

VS: I know that you are an advocate of home schooling for many reasons. But I wondered if this development might cause some parents to take a closer look at this approach in order to offer a safer learning environment for their children?

COVIL: It’s possible. I can tell you as a mother who has home-schooling experience that it’s not an easy task. But this approach does not allow you to insulate yourself from the outside world. At some time you have to let yourself step outside of those four walls, and meet the world at large. We’ve had shootings in so many different situations – shopping malls, movie theaters, and so forth. We can’t just hole up in our home and completely protect ourselves. But it’s definitely something that needs to be addressed, but I don’t necessarily feel this calamity, no matter how deplorable, is going to spur a mass exodus from the school system. 

VS: Do you feel that this latest tragedy might cause the New Hanover County School System to get this on the agenda for discussion to determine how we locally are in jeopardy, and how we can prevent such a thing from happening here?

COVIL: I’m sure. Anytime something like this happens and attracts wide coverage in the national media, it causes you to review your own policies and your own vulnerability or preparedness, so you can evaluate how the children in your own schools are protected and safe. I think they are reviewing the policies as we speak. Everyone must know what the procedures are, knows what to do when confronted with something like this, even though you can’t always anticipate what may happen. You prepare for the worst case scenario and hopefully it won’t happen. 

VS: This all must hit pretty close to home for you and your husband. as you have youngsters moving through the New Hanover County school system. Tell me about them.
COVIL: The twins are in the sixth grade at Trask, then we a freshman who is fifteen, and a senior at Laney. Yes, that is incentive enough to take all of these threats very seriously. And we do.


I believe that every student deserves a quality education close to home.  In order for parents to remain involved in their child's education, a school must be family-friendly and easily accessible.  Education, however, is not a "one-size-fits-all" proposition.  Therefore, if a school fails to meet a child's academic needs, parents should have access to a more suitable option.  Allowing parents these kinds of choices leads to more competition among schools.  And, when schools are forced to compete for student enrollment, the overall result is greater performance, thus breeding academic excellence.