Fifteen students in Tisha Thacker's fourth-grade class at Lexington's Pershing Elementary School had school safety and violence on their minds recently.
When they knew they were going to visit the Capitol in Lincoln last Wednesday, the 9- and 10-year-olds decided to write letters to their senator, Matt Williams of Gothenburg, and let him know their concerns.
Please make it a law, one boy said, that you can't allow violence in schools.
"Students can get terribly hurt," he said.
The students had a unit in their reading class that encouraged them to participate in government, their teacher said. When the fourth-graders studied Nebraska government, they asked if they could write to Williams, who had written them a letter last year.
They had heard President Donald Trump had talked about arming teachers after the shooting at a Florida high school Feb. 14, Thacker said.
"I left it up to them," the teacher said. "I said here are a few of the laws that are being talked about, like substitute teachers needing a four-year degree."
Most of the students chose the topic of school violence and arming teachers, edited the letters and submitted them to their teacher to give to the senator.
Monday, Williams read excerpts on the floor of the Legislature during debate on a bill (LB998) that would allow Educational Service Units to hire social workers to aid students with behavioral or mental health problems.
One of Thacker's students asked for protection for schools. He wanted stronger glass windows so a bad person couldn't break in the classroom. Stronger doors and fences. Military personnel to guard school grounds, day and night.
"I learn the best when I am protected and safe," he said.
The letters showed how children view the issue of arming teachers much differently than adults.
Teachers should not bring a gun to school because kids might get scared of the teacher, and some might not want to come to school anymore, one student wrote.
"When she calls us to go with her we will be, like, frozen because we will think she is going to point the gun to us," a girl said. "If students are talking to their neighbor when the teacher is talking and teaching, she will get mad. Accidentally shoot."
They feared accidents, the possibility of a gunshot ricocheting off a file cabinet and endangering students, or a new student thinking the teacher's gun is a toy and shooting it when the teacher steps out of the classroom.
Students see teachers as kind, caring and compassionate, a boy said. But if they carried guns, students would think they are untrustworthy and unkind.
Maybe the guns aren't the problem, one boy said. Maybe it's the person behind the gun.
"We should make sure that the person buying the gun is using it for legal purposes, not illegal purposes," the boy said. "This information is in our Bill of Rights in the 2nd Amendment."
One student suggested putting barbed wire around the school so people can't come in.
"Every time a person might break in to the schools, and that might never happen, but just to make sure they can get poked if they climb the fences," the boy said.
The students are reminded about school safety and gun violence every time an incident is reported in the news or when they do lockdown drills throughout the school year.
They had great thought processes and good questions about safety as they wrote to Williams, Thacker said. She was surprised how much concern they expressed as grade-school students.
But they put a lot of faith in what Nebraska lawmakers might be able to do for them.
"Just in case someone brings a gun to a public school in Lexington, Nebraska, I hope you will keep us safe," a girl said.