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The Nevada Independent

Youth, parents call for better learning environments, gun control

From environmental hazards to school culture, residents had a lot to share at the second Nevada Democracy Project community listening session.
Naoka Foreman
Naoka Foreman

Cassandra Baker, 13, says watching her parents struggle financially and the instability of the economy makes her concerned about her future. She points to school curricula as the source of her worries, fearing that she’s not being educated on topics that will help her understand politics, navigate life and manage money.

Cassandra, a member of The Scouts Troop 149, was one of more than 60 people in attendance Tuesday night at the second Nevada Democracy Project community listening session, an event co-hosted by Vegas PBS and The Nevada Independent.

The theme was youth issues and election questions, which inspired conversations from those as young as 8 up to senior citizens on topics such as gun reform, discipline at schools, the state of local news coverage, voting, environmental hazards and the future.

“Looking at my parents' lives and seeing that no one's prepared for what it is, I feel like I'm going to be even less prepared because of education,” said Cassandra, one of 20 members of her troop who attended.

UNLV political science student Malcolm Greer said following the Dec. 6 campus shooting, in which three professors were slain and another injured, students have been debating whether the campus should remain open to the public.

He also said he wants lawmakers in Nevada to implement gun reform policies as a way to make workplaces and school campuses safe. Imer Cespedes-Alvarado, who also attends UNLV, agreed but said that increased security measures don’t get to the heart of gun violence in communities. 

Both students were in the Student Union at a workshop about political organizing during the December shooting. Eight out of about 80 students in that room that day attended the event.

“Right now, the UNLV president is doing a good job implementing more security [measures] on campus, but I think this is not enough,” Cespedes-Alvarado said. “I think we need a gun control reform [bill], or something better in the upcoming Legislature.”

Last legislative session, Republican Gov. Joe Lombardo vetoed three gun reform laws including SB171, sponsored by Sen. Dallas Harris (D-Las Vegas), that would have prevented a gun purchase from anyone convicted of a hate crime in the past 10 years. The two others were sponsored by Assemblywoman Sandra Jauregui (D-Las Vegas): AB354, which would have criminalized bringing a gun within 100 feet of an election site, and AB355, which would have raised the legal age to purchase certain semi-automatic rifles and shotguns to 21. The proposal also aimed to close a legal loophole in the state’s 2021 attempt to ban untraceable firearms or "ghost guns.”

Discipline at schools

Complaints about Clark County school environments led to emotional testimonies from parents and former educators who voiced concerns about pupil treatment, a lack of protection from youth violence — particularly in “Black and brown communities” — and too much or too little discipline.

Peggy Young, who worked as a teacher in Southern Nevada for more than three decades and retired in 2000, said that when she left education was changing and that it’s “not been for the best.” Young argued there was a lack of teacher autonomy in the classroom and the uprooting of disciplinary practices from past generations.

“Teachers used to own their classrooms,” she said. “If they wanted to teach reading that day and [students] did not understand it — they [had] the ability to teach it another day and reteach it for as long as they need[ed] to.”

Others who spoke about school systems centered on the importance of understanding what makes students feel safe at school so they have a better chance at success.

Yared Retta, youth program director at the Mass Liberation Project, a nonprofit focused on abolishing youth and adult prisons, said it’s difficult for youth to learn at school because the environment includes school police.

“A police officer's presence is meant to intimidate, to be able to instill this type of fear or this sense of authority,” Retta said, who is also a student at CSN. “If I'm a student going into school, that's not the type of mentality that I want to be met with every day, with his gun on his hip.”

Stephanie Wells said she took her sixth grade and seventh grade children out of their middle school because she believed they were being treated like inmates in a jail by the staff. It came after her daughter was placed on in-school suspension multiple times for not wearing a school badge, she said.

“She’s not a number – she’s not a badge,” she said. “That made me feel some type of way because they're grooming these children for jail.”

She added that the school sometimes failed to notify her about the disciplinary actions that were taken. 

Wells also said schools should increase the number of “brown” teachers on campuses, stating that her daughter has only had white teachers and that “they cannot relate to brown.”

“They need to make it more about the education and less about making these children feel like criminals and like they’re in some type of jail,” Wells said.

Former educator Danielle Goodwin said behavior is out of control at schools because there is a lack of skilled teachers in the classroom, which she said has led to more harsh disciplinary actions.

“At this point, they're being funneled into the juvenile justice system for little or nothing,” Goodwin said. “My little cousin – 13 – just got a ticket for yanking the door. She had to go in front of a judge.”

Twenty-one-year-old Israel Hernandez, youth organizer for New Era Las Vegas, a nonprofit focused on food insecurity and keeping neighborhoods safe, said the solution to the problem at schools is homeschooling and divesting from public systems and creating new ones.

“I feel like this educational system, this whole nation itself, is grooming our youth to be workers,” he said. “The real education involves deep-rooted history about who we are, about this planet that we are on [and] the systems that took everything.”

News coverage, pollution and lowering the voter age

Cesar Marquez, who was also in the Student Union during the UNLV shooting, said ranked choice voting and supporting open primaries is his number one reason for voting later this year, because he believes closed primaries help extreme candidates win races. He said an open system in which people who are not registered as a Democrat or Republican would incentivize leaders to prioritize issues regarding housing and education.

In 2022, a ranked choice voting initiative passed as a ballot measure aiming to amend the Nevada Constitution by requiring that most partisan state and local elections allow voters to rank candidates in order of preference during the primary, regardless of their party affiliation. 

The proposal could be legalized if it passes again this election.

“I look at the system first,” Marquez said. “Things like open primaries and ranked choice voting are step one so that we can create the environment that is going to allow our representatives to collaborate with each other.” 

While youth and attendees spoke about voting and politics, they also said news coverage is “subjective,” complicit in misinforming people and that it has “normalized bad behavior” exhibited by leaders such as former President Donald J. Trump – the first U.S. president or former president to have ever been indicted

“Why does the press refer to [him] as former President [Donald] Trump?” Robert Pritchard asked. “Why is it not former President [Donald] Trump who is currently facing [4] indictments and [91] possible convictions?” 

Drake York, who plans to study at CSN for a career in journalism, said the information presented in news, including photos, is “innately” biased.

“What exactly you write about your experiences, that’s always going to be biased,” York said. “I don't think it's that bad [because] we have access to information. If you really want to learn … educate yourself on what's going on with things.”

Attendees urged people to read news from just a few reliable sources, challenged residents to read news beyond headlines and shared what they would like to see more and less of in reporting.

“I think the big ticket items are just a bit too big for me, because I'm just a bit more worried about what's going on in the local areas, like let's say floods,” said 11-year old Eric Padilla.

Eric said he cares about the environment and agrees that leaders should safeguard communities from the possibility of radioactive material accumulating in groundwater and traveling by wind. This came after Ian Zabarte, 45, raised concerns about environmental hazards that move through the earth’s atmosphere.

“This environment is the most precious thing that we have,” said Zabarte, secretary of state for the Western Shoshone National Council. “It's a fragile environment. We have the oldest life in the world here in the Great Basin.”

Eric also said he is sometimes sad that he cannot vote yet. The voting age in Nevada is 18. 

Eight-year-old Nasir Herrera said the voting age should drop down to 13 and that if he could vote, he would cast his ballot for a leader who makes “everything free.”


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