Teacher and Columbine Survivor Stands Up For Common Sense School Safety Measures

Colorado art teacher Katie Lyles hoped her students would be spared from the sort of dark specters that haunt her memories of high school.

But during an emergency “lock down” drill at her elementary school, while crammed into a storage room with about 24 second graders, one student, a 7-year-old named Anthony, reached for her hand in fear. At that moment, her hopes began to fade.

“My heart broke for Anthony and his classmates—that they have to learn these types of drills at such a young age, if at all,” Lyles recently admitted during a public hearing in Denver on curbing gun violence. “I thought to myself: ‘This is a result of the Columbine shootings. This is my reality, and now it is theirs too.’ ”

When it comes to gun violence, Lyles has a unique, though unenviable, perspective. She’s witnessed its impact as an educator and up close as a student. Lyles, who’s been teaching for less than a decade, is a survivor of the 1999 shootings at Columbine High School, where 12 students and one educator died after being brutally gunned down.

“My story about Columbine is that I ran out of the school after the shooting started. We had to scatter into the neighborhood,” said Lyles, who also told Education Votes she sometimes experiences “survivor’s guilt” and a range of other emotions around April 20th, the anniversary of the shooting. “Sometimes, I am like, ‘Oh, I am fine.’ And then that day will hit you like a ton of bricks.”

But this year may be different. For the first time in about 14 years, Lyles is speaking publicly about the day that changed her life and this nation forever.

Spurred by the tragedy in Newtown, Connecticut, where a gunman killed 20 young children and six educators in December, Lyles is talking to local and national media and meeting on Capitol Hill with U.S. Senators, who this week debated a package of gun safety measures to help secure schools and keep students safe.

On Wednesday, the U.S. Senate failed to pass background checks for gun purchases. The vote was 54 – 46, but needed 60 votes to pass.

Reacting to the vote, NEA President Dennis Van Roekel said the U.S. Senate “caved to special gun lobby interests, ignored the cries for help from Sandy Hook families and other victims of violence, and failed to protect children from gun violence.”

“Educators like Katie Lyles will not be deterred by today’s outcome,” Van Roekel added. “Educators will keep fighting for simple, common sense steps to help prevent future tragedies.”

Lyles has already proven to be a resource in Colorado, where her testimony earlier this year helped persuade state lawmakers to pass some of the toughest gun safety measures in the country. She’s motivated by the thought of a world where her students — and all students across the country — can attend public schools free of the pain, loss, and emotional turmoil caused by gun violence.

“I am passionate about this. I see our kids come into our school and they expect this to be a safe place of learning,” said Lyles, who says she doesn’t know if she would be this outspoken if she weren’t an educator. “We need to fulfill this promise to our students. I definitely gather strength from my students.  They need this.”

Video: Katie Lyles

Take Action Today: Tell Congress: The Time is Now! Stop the Violence and Protect our Children

  • Jacqueline Washack

    I am so disgusted with the Senate refusal to move forward with the the latest Bill about gun violence. I know the NEA is a big lobby group in Washington but I haven’t hears anything about the NEA using their clout in Washington against gun violence. I pay attention. I watched MSNBC, listen to NPR and I haven’t heard about the NEA only the lobbyist and commercials from the NRA. Come on, NEA. We want to protect children and teachers and want safe schools. It is time to use your clout.

  • Howard Barber

    I can not imagine the grief of loosing a child, I have seven myself. I have been in education for over 5 years at both middle school and community college level. I for one am glad this bill did not pass, do not get me wrong I am for finding what needs to be done to keep our children safe. But this bill was not the way. It was just a knee jerk reaction to appear that something was being done. It would not have done anything to make anybody safer just to give the politicians an opportunity to beat their chests. The interviews of the parents of Newtown said they wanted to get something done, the challenge is defining the something. A comprehensive plan that will work at limiting access to weapons by bad people is what is needed and that unfortunately is not going to be easy or have a quick fix.

  • Pingback: The Guild Leader Episode #3 - Beer and Joysticks()

  • Pingback: Teachers won't give up when it comes to common sense gun laws | Lily's Blackboard()

  • Valerie Parkhurst

    So what do my eyes behold?? Teachers Unions protesting background checks for convicted sex offenders and violent felons?? Really? Rubber rooms with full pay are not enough for you people? No wonder our public schools are in the toilet..Go ahead and try it..We will give you a war like you have never seen before..

  • I have to thank you for the efforts you’ve put in writing this website.
    I am hoping to check out the same high-grade content by you later on as well.
    In fact, your creative writing abilities has encouraged me to get my own, personal
    website now 😉