In the wake of the horrific shootings at Sandy Hook Elementary School, which claimed the life of a SUNY Cortland alumna, the College will host a “teach-in” about the threat posed by guns in American schools.
The event will feature Distinguished Service Professor Robert Spitzer, an internationally respected gun-law expert, as well as University Police Chief Steve Dangler, elementary school administrators, teachers and SUNY Cortland teacher candidates. It will take place from 7 to 9 p.m. on Tuesday, Feb. 5, in Sperry Center, Room 205.
The panelists will discuss whether there is any kind of role for guns in schools, including armed police officers or teachers as some gun-rights advocacy groups have suggested. Michelle Kelly, associate professor in the School of Education’s Foundations and Social Advocacy Department, also will speak, sharing how teachers have made schools safe without guns, often by taking heroic action.
Former Sandy Hook school psychologist Mary Joy Greene Sherlach ’78, who was killed in the Dec. 14 attack, epitomizes that type of heroism. When gunman Adam Lanza first shattered a school window to get inside her building, Sherlach and the school principal immediately raced toward him in an effort to protect the 700 children in the school.
They became the first two people killed at Sandy Hook School.
Before Lanza finally turned one of his guns on himself, he managed to kill 26 people, including 20 first-grade children. His rampage was the second-deadliest school shooting in United States history. It led to the quick passage of new gun-control legislation in New York state and sparked national debates on the availability of firearms and the nation’s mental health system.
“Mary’s actions were heroic, and exemplified courage, compassion and dedication,” SUNY Cortland President Erik J. Bitterbaum said. “We are proud to call her one of our own.”
A second “teach-in” on mental health issues and school safety is being planned. The educational events are part of a broader initiative taken by the College to help honor Sherlach’s memory.
SUNY Cortland will sponsor a scholarship in her name next fall, and has begun accepting donations. The fund will be used to offset tuition and other costs for a deserving student who is studying psychology. Sherlach graduated cum laude from Cortland with a psychology degree. She had been school psychologist at Sandy Hook since 1994.
The College also will make special recognition of Sherlach during Alumni Reunion 2013 this summer, when her graduating class of 1978 will be one of the featured reunions. Details of that recognition are not yet complete.
The Feb. 5 “teach-in” will bring together one of the nation’s top experts in firearm legislation with experienced educators. Spitzer’s expertise on gun issues has been in high demand since the shooting in Sandy Hook. During the last month, the professor of political science has appeared on ABC Nightly News and shared his analysis of the situation on National Public Radio and the British Broadcasting System. Spitzer has been quoted in The Washington Post, the New York Daily News, Bloomberg News, The Pittsburgh Post-Gazette, The Hill and The Independent in Great Britain.
The event is being organized by Lorraine Berry, project director for NeoVox; Kelly; Spitzer; and Andrea Lachance, dean of the School of Education.