Editor’s Note: Manuel Oliver is the father of Joaquin “Guac” Oliver, who was killed at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School in Parkland, Florida, in 2018 when he was 17 years old. Manuel and his wife, Patricia Oliver, are founders of the Change The Ref organization, which uses urban art and nonviolent creative confrontation to expose the disastrous effects of the mass shooting pandemic. The views expressed in this commentary are his own. View more opinion at CNN.
I will always appreciate the joy and challenges that came with helping my son Joaquin do his homework. It involved many inside jokes and thoughtful conversations throughout the process of understanding the main subject and achieving the final task.
Part of the exercise would include creating strategies and fun ways to recall formulas and phrases from textbooks.
That’s how we made a “Magic Hat” capable of giving us the power of “Mega Memory and Universal Knowledge.” Joaquin would wear the hat as part of our studying ritual.
As the Covid-19 pandemic upended many lives, I saw parents sharing stories on social media about how helping their kids with homework and supporting them with daily tasks became tedious.
And if I’m being honest, I looked at those comments from parents with a bit of envy, wishing that I could have similar moments with my son. It’s been three years since Joaquin was shot four times inside his Parkland school, and I would do anything to go back to my homework assisting days. I would change my actual reality for just one hug, a simple conversation or a chess game with my son. I would give anything for the opportunity to study for hours on a 24/7 shift basis to make certain that the most precious human to me in the world is safe. But, I know I can’t.
I know: In ordinary times it can be difficult for parents and caregivers to muster the energy and patience children need on a daily basis, so I can understand how adding that struggle to the stress and hardship of Covid-19 for more than a year was challenging. Few Americans thought that supplementing our children’s education would become part of our daily job. We were simply not trained for it – for the improvising, nimbleness and patience, and for many it was a learning process. Our kids had to deal with a “homemade” learning system that left many of them behind academically, emotionally and psychologically.
But as difficult as it all was, there was a bright spot to homeschooling that powerfully stood out for me: during the last year, while most kids were educated virtually, very few school shootings occurred because empty schools have no targets for killers with easy access to weapons of any kind.
For families like mine that have been impacted by school shootings, the lull in school shootings because of the lockdown is a moment that shouldn’t be ignored.
So, while I recognize the struggles many have faced in the past year, I have a suggestion: that all kids keep learning from home until we see some real action on guns from our legislators.
Some may read this, roll their eyes and dismiss this as a preposterous idea that ignores the realities for families.
To that, I would say look at what has happened since the country began opening up. Over one weekend last month, there were 11 mass shootings across the US. And I would also ask, do you think schools will suddenly be spared from this act of domestic terrorism?
The answer is no. There have already been seven school shootings this year. In 2020, the total was 10. Adding salt to this wound is the lack of meaningful action from policy makers on gun control in the face of what has become routine violence – that is, it did not used to be this way. Now, every time there is a mass shooting, the grieving loved ones of victims are left asking: What more will it take to get common sense gun laws passed?
As responsible parents and protectors of our loved ones, we should demand the federal approval of universal background checks for every firearm purchase. We should also expect the adoption of “red flag” laws, which are state laws that allow courts to temporarily confiscate firearms from anyone believed to be a danger to themselves or others; and safe storage laws, that require that gun owners store their firearms unloaded and appropriately locked away, be passed at the federal level.
No change in society will happen on its own, and some radical circumstances – like the constant drumbeat of America’s mass shootings – require adding disruptive pressure to our representatives. My wife and I founded Change the Ref with the idea that Joaquin’s life could make a difference if it spurred the use of disruptive and untraditional ways to fight injustice. So, keeping the kids home as part of a national strike sounds like an effective way to accomplish our mission.
There is no question that home schooling and virtual learning is much more demanding and hands-on. It’s about more than simply helping with homework; it requires full-time attention on our kids and their learning process. For many, the experience of virtual school has exposed how necessary it is for children to experience in-person school – physical presence in the classroom is a must-have balance for so many in the pursuit of a happy family.
But those schools need to be safe.
Now kids are returning to classrooms, but at what risk? A risk that perhaps could completely obliterate a family’s joy and stability. I urge all parents to keep this at the front of their minds and hold their elected officials accountable.
In America, parents drop their kids at school without knowing if that was the last kiss, hug or “I love you” they might ever receive from the person they love most. No one ever thinks that a tragedy like this will show up at their doorstep, but in the last decade there have been over 180 school shootings. Like the parents of the over 3,000 children who die per year from gun violence, I miss my kid’s company during every minute of my life. I miss the games and the “Magic Hat” with the Pythagorean theorem formula written across it. I miss the pile of books and the projects that we did together. I miss the day we did an Alexander Hamilton project, and Joaquin got an “A” on it.
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It’s too late for me to save my beautiful son.
But it’s not too late for most of you. Maybe you should start prioritizing your kids’ safety by keeping them home from school, over the possibility of planning a funeral using the money you saved for college to cover the expenses.
Today, I vote for a complete extension of the lockdown until we approve all gun sales regulations needed to keep our kids safe inside their schools. I wish all parents could wear Joaquin’s “Magic Hat” so they could acquire “Mega Memory” and never forget what happened in Parkland on Valentine’s Day in 2018.