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Secretary Cardona Delivers Remarks at the National Safer Communities Summit

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Thank you, Angela. Moms Demand Action is a force to be reckoned with.

I also want to thank Senators Chris Murphy and Richard Blumenthal and Everytown for Gun Safety for organizing this first-ever National Safer Communities Summit.

The conversations taking place here today are so important – that’s why at this very moment the President of the United States is on his way to Connecticut.

You know, a decade ago, I was proudly serving as principal of Hanover Elementary School in Meriden CT, just about half hour away from the senseless tragedy at Sandy Hook.

I remember that morning vividly, how it shook our entire community.

There was a numbness felt across the building.

There were tears shed by teachers in the breakroom between classes.

I remember hearing from my Dad, now a retired police officer who went to Sandy Hook to help secure the area, about the horrific events that unfolded.

I remember the panicked phone calls from parents asking, what were we doing to keep their children safe?

I remember the thoughts that ran through my own head as a father.

I had two kids in elementary school at the time. How could we keep them safe?

If it can happen in Newtown, it can happen in Meriden. It’s why to this day whenever I drop my daughter off at school, I say a prayer, “God protect her.”

In the weeks after Sandy Hook, I remember feeling powerless. And I remember feeling outraged.

I thought to myself, if we as a people normalize the slaughter of innocent children then we have bigger problems on our hands.

We no longer ask if it’s going to happen again, but when and where.

If we as a country care more about selling AR-15s than saving children’s lives, then we have lost our way!

I never imagined that a decade after Sandy Hook, I would be serving as Secretary of Education and traveling to Uvalde, Texas to grieve for 19 murdered children and 2 educators.

I attended the wakes of four murdered children and a teacher who was gunned down protecting her students and her husband who died of a broken heart just days later.

I remember listening to the cries of parents living their worst nightmare – a grief felt across this country, where gun violence kills over 3,600 children and youth each year.

After the mass for the murdered teacher and her husband, I met with the teachers from Robb Elementary School, who, between tears, pleaded for me to do something.

These are the same desperate cries for action we heard after Newtown. And Parkland. And Santa Fe. And in the countless communities that have lost children to gun violence but have never made the national news.

But something was different this time.

This time, Washington listened to the voices of the American people.

And this month marks one year since President Biden signed the Bipartisan Safer Communities Act into law.

You in this room made history happen!

At the Department of Education, we’re acting with a sense of urgency.

This year alone we’ve seen 270 mass shootings, and 180 gun-related incidents on school campuses.

In every single case, there are children and youth facing trauma that impacts their ability to learn and thrive.

It compounds the youth mental health crisis.

And it’s compounding the teacher shortage too. We don’t pay teachers enough already, so I’m sure as hell not going to stay quiet about fighting for their safety.

We’ve gotten over two billion dollars out the door already.

The first billion is for training and preparing more people for careers in school-based mental health – an effort that will bring 14,000 more counselors, therapists, and other mental health professionals to our schools.

We’re maximizing this effort by cutting red tape that has made it tough for schools to expand health services.

Until now, it was virtually impossible for districts to file claims with programs like Medicaid and the Children’s Health Insurance Program, even though they cover 55% of all kids in America!

That’s 41 million children!

At one of our first cabinet meetings, the President pushed us to make the process simpler.

I am proud to share that today, Health and Human Services Secretary Xavier Becerra and I sent a letter to every Governor in the nation, letting them know how we’ve simplified the reimbursement process for behavioral health in schools.

That will help level the playing field in our schools that serve our students in greatest need.

The second billion dollars from BSCA will help schools shore up security and build safer, more positive and supportive school cultures.

There’s a lot of flexibility for how schools can use these Stronger Connections grant funds.

But let me be clear: a lock on a door is no match for an AR-15.

And don’t get me started on the politicians pushing us to arm teachers.

These are the same politicians who don’t trust teachers to choose the right books and now they want to trust them with guns in our classrooms?

Give me a break!

School safety is about more than metal detectors and security cameras.

Students need to feel safe enough to share what’s going on in their lives, so we can address that trauma before the despair takes over. So we can intervene and prevent violence before it strikes.

This is critical, especially in communities struggling with gun violence on a daily basis.

We’re talking about evidence-based approaches that improve behavioral and academic outcomes by making students feel safer, accepted, and protected in our schools.

And we’re also investing another $50 million in 21st Century Community Learning Centers, so that youth have enriching opportunities outside of school to keep them engaged and safe from violence.

This is how we raise the bar for student mental health – by building the infrastructure of care and support students need before its too late, before the despair sets in.

We will continue investing in trauma-informed learning, in safer schools, in community violence prevention.

This work is important. It will save lives. but let’s be clear. It is NOT ENOUGH.

AND IT WILL NOT BE ENOUGH UNTIL WE TOUGHEN OUR GUN LAWS!

Until we restore President Biden’s assault weapons ban. Until we have truly universal background checks and stop the flow of illegal guns to our streets.

I need our Republican leaders in Congress to listen to the cries of their parents and teachers and DO THEIR JOBS! We cannot accept the status quo.

NOT WHEN guns are the number one killer of children and youth in America!

NOT WHEN students are getting shot on their way to and from school!

NOT WHEN educators have to teach children how to run, hide, and fight before they can read!

WE CANNOT GIVE UP. This is our moment!

We must KEEP pushing. KEEP organizing. KEEP voting. As President Biden recently said, “There will come a point where our voices are so loud, our determination so clear that we can no longer be stopped.”

POTUS is in the air on his way here. Are you ready to make some noise today?

Just over a week ago I was with Vice President Kamala Harris at a rally for gun violence awareness.

It was at John Lewis High School in Springfield, Virginia. And I could not help but think of the late Congressman’s wise words…

“If not us, who? If not now, when?”

I’m honored to be here with you today! Let’s continue the fight. Our children are watching.

Thank you!

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