Nan Austin

Who bans research to holster gun violence? Not the good guys

In the stunned aftermath of the Orlando, Fla., shootings, the American Educational Research Association made the point that schools have a pivotal role in preparing children to live in a diverse world.

And then the statement by AERA Director Felice Levine said this: “We also call on Congress to lift restrictions that prohibit the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention and other Department of Health and Human Services agencies from conducting gun violence research. These restrictions have stymied the development and implementation of evidence-based policies and programs that foster gun safety.”

Even the most fervent gun supporters I know want to keep kids safe around them. Creating a law to keep anyone from looking for ways to do that is outrageous. Beyond the logical lapses, it does not sound like anything people who believe they are right would propose.

“The CDC is there to look at diseases that need to be dealt with to protect public health,” then-House Speaker John Boehner said at a 2015 news conference after a congressional committee killed an amendment to bring back the research. “I’m sorry, but a gun is not a disease. Guns don’t kill people – people do. And when people use weapons in a horrible way, we should condemn the actions of the individual and not blame the action on some weapon.”

Early reports say the Orlando massacre was carried out with the MCX, nicknamed the Black Mamba, based on weaponry developed for special operations forces and similar to the AR-15 semi-automatic assault rifle. The gun is advertised as a modern sporting rifle, though any hunter who needs 30 rounds to fell a deer should do the decent thing and hand in his license.

Some weapon.

Boehner’s argument puts the blame for America’s staggering number of gun deaths – 8,124 in 2014, more than 22 a day – entirely on human choices.

People have made the same terrible, split-second choices for centuries, but a fist or a knife gives a crowd a chance. Nobody has figured out how to keep all the bad guys we do not yet know are bad guys from getting legal, rapid-fire guns with 30-round magazines.

There might be a way, but someone would probably have to research it.

In other news, a new report on homeless students gives a sobering look at how few supports are helping, or even reaching, these kids.

Hidden in Plain Sight, released by America’s Promise Alliance, is based on surveys of 44 homeless youths and 158 young adults who were homeless at some point in middle school or high school.

About 5 percent of California schoolchildren are homeless, 310,002 by federal count in 2013-14. That works out to more than one in every class – and those are just the students the school district knew about and reported to get federal reimbursement.

The Golden State’s rate is nearly twice the national average of 2.7 percent, and the Central Valley’s is probably even higher. We have more poor people.

A University of the Pacific report released in March counted up how many workers would be affected by the state’s hike in minimum wage to $15: Stanislaus County, 50 percent; 52 percent in San Joaquin; and 60 percent in Merced County. For anyone who thought low-wage jobs were just folks working at Wal-Mart and McDonald’s – nope, it’s more than half of all the jobs in the Valley.

The homeless study included runaways, families living in cars and kids couch-surfing among relatives and friends. It did not look at how it happened, just at what services they got, or needed but did not get.

The chaos of a homeless life has a ripple effect on school attendance and performance. The five states now reporting high school graduation rates for homeless students show far fewer – 18 percent to 31 percent fewer – complete high school.

In the survey, most said getting to school was difficult and even getting into one was a hassle. Proof-of-residency requirements made finding a school harder, as did lost medical records, schools that didn’t forward records, parents who did not understand forms and finding a way to get to and from campus.

Once in school, survey respondents said, they really needed a friendly face to check in with, a counselor to talk to and referrals to community services.

In Ceres, Araceli Medina works to meet all those needs. In the 2015-16 year just finished, Ceres Unified had 941 students who were homeless at some point and got a helping hand from Medina, the district’s homeless community coordinator.

“Some are temporary – just for two months or so. Others are for up to two years, back to back,” she said, depending on each situation. “We don’t really ask those questions. We just get them help.”

Help includes school supplies, emergency clothing, showers and shampoo, bus passes or gas vouchers. She calls up community organizations to help find a stable place for the family or emergency supplies.

Being bilingual, she can translate for parents and get forms signed. The first form is an affidavit of housing transiency, which gets past the proof-of-residency requirement. A call to the prior school gets records on the way.

“It’s the same procedure as when kids move schools, but we handle with care a little more,” Medina said. She said the district tries to keep kids in the same school, with their friends, as much as possible, even providing transportation when necessary.

Every district in California has a staff person designated as a homeless liaison. At Modesto City Schools, that person is Melanie McCleary, director of state and federal programs. She reports the homeless count as a one-day figure instead of a full-year tally. For 2015-16, the number was over 500 in Modesto.

Once designated as homeless, kids automatically qualify for free lunches and the right to stay at their home school, though getting there each day can get complicated.

“I would say transportation is a constant need, especially for more transient families, where the hotel or the shelter keeps changing,” McCleary said. But keeping what she called educational stability matters, McCleary said, “There’s all this research that proves you lose out some without it.”

New rules coming in with the federal Every Student Succeeds Act will increase the focus on helping homeless kids, or at least tracking their progress. Much of what the act is requiring, McCleary added, has been in place in California for at least five years.

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