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Newton parents ask School Committee to educate residents on Mass. gun laws

At the first School Committee meeting of September, two parents called for a step towards what they said could prevent the likelihood of an armed gunman entering a school building.

Laura Towvim and Heather Tausig are members of the Newton Gun Violence Prevention Collaborative, a local anti-gun violence organization that wrote a letter to the School Committee calling for the city’s public schools to start teaching parents about how to properly store any firearms in their homes.

The group is also asking the School Committee to educate parents on the state’s Extreme Risk Protective Order, also known as Red Flag Law, which can require some individuals to surrender their firearms. They argue this would do much to keep guns out of the hands of vulnerable children.

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“Missing from NPS’s plan is one simple evidence-based strategy: educating parents about existing laws that can keep guns out of the hands of children,” Towvim told the committee during its Sept. 7 meeting.

The district has “social and emotional initiatives” in place for students, according to its website, as well as a “SchoolMessenger communication system” to alert families via phone or email in case of an emergency.

A resolution from the School Committee would be a preventative measure, and would potentially stop at-risk children from harming themselves or others with access to a firearm, they said.

Tausig and Towvim said they hope their ideas can generate more traction among other parents, and especially among the School Committee.

“A lot of states have these extreme risk protection order laws or red flag laws, but if people don’t know about them, then they really don’t do any good,” Towvim said in an interview.

Tamika Olszewski , chair of the Newton School Committee, said she is considering the possibility of moving forward with new proposals around gun education.

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“NPS staff are exploring the most effective, and ultimately the most impactful, way to raise awareness of this valuable, potentially life-saving information, such as the safe storage of firearms, to our families,” Oslzewski wrote in an email.

She did not respond to questions on when the school committee would discuss such matters publicly.

Towvim said she and Tausig began speaking with the school district about their safe storage initiative roughly three years ago.

“We’ve definitely been putting the pressure up,” Towvim said.

Olszewski indicated Newton’s School Committee could collaborate with other city agencies in providing information to families.

To make sure the district puts forth the best information to parents, it’s critical for the committee to work with local police and Newton’s health services department, which oversees school nurses, she said in an email.

“One of the many ways our schools support student wellbeing, in particular, is by providing resources to families in a variety of areas,” Olszewski said. “The safety of students, faculty and staff is a primary concern.”

Towvim and Tausig said a simple way for getting the most out of gun laws that already exist would be to educate parents about them.

“The more parents and caregivers and the people who know about these laws, I think the more likely they are going to be to adhere to the safe storage laws and to know there’s a resource at their disposal to address a child or an adult who might be in danger or present a danger to someone else,” Tausig said.

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Tausig said she got involved in gun safety advocacy after the shooting at at Sandy Hook Elementary School in Newtown, Conn.

She had young children at the time and began volunteering with other anti-gun violence groups, she said. She also met with legislators on Beacon Hill about supporting legislation for preventing gun violence.

Tausig recalled how her teenage daughter once said she feared school shootings.

“It was unacceptable to me that my child felt like that,” she said.

For Tausig and Towvim, a gunman at a Newton school is a real fear. But parental education from the district, they said, is a step that’s better taken before something happens.

“We want to make sure that we are never in the place where we are being reactive,” Towvim said. “We want to be proactive, and this is an easy thing.”

Correction: Due to a reporting error, an earlier version of this story misspelled the name of a member of the Newton Gun Violence Prevention Collaborative. Her name is Laura Towvim, not Towvin.