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Portland Association of Teachers President Suzanne Cohen graduated in 1994 from the site of the school shooting that left 17 people dead Feb. 14. She is now highly motivated to organize around ending school shootings.

TRIBUNE PHOTO: JONATHAN HOUSE - Portland Association of Teachers President Suzanne Cohen graduated from Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School in Parkland, Florida, the site of the Feb. 14 school shooting that left 17 people dead. Portland Association of Teachers President Suzanne Cohen, like many others, was shocked and saddened when she heard that a gunman opened fire at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School in Parkland, Florida on Feb. 14.

But unlike many others, Cohen first heard about it on a Facebook group for alumni of the high school.

Cohen, who graduated from the school in 1994, has been spurred into action by the tragedy that left 17 people dead.

"I was crying and it was very personal, and I was distraught," she said.

Cohen is using her considerable organizing clout in state and local politics to push for change. She is planning for and encouraging educators and students to participate in the following events:

• Wednesday, March 14: At 10 a.m. in every time zone, the March for Women's Youth branch is urging people to stand outside for 17 minutes to honor the 17 people killed at Stoneman Douglas High School.

• Saturday, March 24: The Portland version of March for Our Lives, spearheaded by Parkland students, will be at 10 a.m. at Tom McCall Waterfront Park in downtown Portland. Its Facebook event page has 7,800 people listed as "interested" in going.

• Friday, April 20: The National Education Association will host a nationwide march on the 19th anniversary of the Columbine High School shooting.

There have been several school shootings in Oregon. In 2015, a gunman killed 10 at Umpqua Community College. In 2014, a student died and a teacher was injured at Reynolds High School. In 1998, Kip Kinkel killed his parents and then opened fire at Thurston High School in Springfield, killing two and injuring 25.

Cohen said it's now become commonplace to practice hiding from active shooters, but that didn't used to be a reality for schoolchildren.

"I know nothing about gun policy, but I know a lot about how scary it is to pretend to hide in your classroom and make your students practice for an active shooter every year," Cohen said.

Superintendent Guadalupe Guerrero, in an appearance at the Portland City Club, pointed to behavioral and mental health in addition to gun control as focus areas to solve this problem.

"Obviously we need to look at everything," Cohen said, but added: "My position is very clear: I want to see an end to mass school shootings. And the only real solution for that is sensible gun control."

Cohen said she is already working on legislation for the 2019 long session of the Oregon Legislature.

The Oregon Education Association, the umbrella group for Portland Association of Teachers, put out a statement Thursday condemning the suggestion of arming teachers.

"We reject the idea of arming school staff," said OEA President John Larson in a news release. "We need solutions that will keep guns out of the hands of those who want to use them to massacre innocent children and educators, not militarize our kindergarten classrooms. It is an unfair and unreasonable expectation for teachers to become armed security guards."

Cohen said she wants a future "where we don't need to practice hiding in closets anymore, and the only way is gun control."

Shasta Kearns Moore
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