New York City parents are grappling anew with how to keep their children safe in the wake of the horrific massacre at an elementary school in Uvalde, Texas.

For many, the shooting has heightened an already pervasive anxiety as crime rates have spiked in neighborhoods across the city. Major crimes have increased citywide by 39%, compared to this time last year, and children and teens have been caught in the crossfire of gun violence.

At the same time, Mayor Eric Adams and NYPD officials announced this week there has been a dramatic increase in the number of "dangerous instruments" confiscated at schools since students returned from remote learning: Tasers, knives, pepper spray and at least 20 guns have been seized since September, officials said. The mayor urged parents to be more vigilant in order to stop the flow of weapons into schools.

The city’s education department maintains schools themselves are safe, pointing to overall reductions this year in dangerous incidents. But some parents say they feel they have to send their kids to class with items that can protect them from the violence erupting in their communities. Schools Chancellor David Banks said this week that students are "afraid when they're going to school and when they're leaving from school."

And while none of the parents Gothamist spoke to said kids should be carrying guns or knives, they argued students need some measure of protection.

“These young girls should walk around with something so they can defend themselves,” said Ashley Carrasco. She prefers to send her daughter to her South Bronx high school with pepper spray, she said, even though it’s against the rules.

Carrasco said there have been a lot of fights at her daughter’s high school lately and there was recently a shooting a block away from the elementary school where she sends her younger children – just as the students were lining up to go inside. She said staff rushed the kids into the school as shots rang out.

Adriana Aviles, a member of the District 26 Community Education Council in Queens, said she wants to send her daughter with pepper spray to protect her on the trip to and from her Manhattan high school, but she knows she could be punished for it. Instead, she gave her daughter a small safety alarm, which the teen lost.

“I am concerned but what am I supposed to do?” Aviles said.

Amy Tsai’s son attends Truman High School in Co-op City, where there were two student stabbings within weeks of each other just outside school doors early last fall. She said there have also been multiple lockdowns in recent months because of violence in the surrounding community.

Tsai, a parent advocate for the Citywide Council for District 75 schools, said she knows some parents who are encouraging their kids to bring Tasers or razors to school to protect themselves on their commutes.

There are kids who bring weapons for their own safety ... A lot of this was already happening for many years. It’s not new. But it is worse.

Parent Amy Tsai

“There are kids who bring weapons for their own safety,” she said. “A lot of this was already happening for many years. It’s not new. But it is worse.”

Students told Chalkbeat NY last winter that they are more concerned about safety on their commutes than within their schools.

“What I’ve heard most is concern about violence in the community, going back and forth to school, because of the climate,” Mark Cannizzaro, the president of the Council of School Supervisors and Administrators, told Gothamist.

At a press conference on Wednesday, Adams and NYPD officials said there has been a 124% increase in the number of what police call “dangerous instruments” confiscated at schools this year.

Officials say knives, tasers and pepper spray are most prevalent, but there has also been an increase in guns. The 20 guns collected at schools since September compare to only one in the 2019-20 school year. However, the data likely includes a wide range of items, since students report having things like Afro picks or scissors confiscated because they can be interpreted as part of the category of “prohibited items”.

Chancellor Banks said he too believes many students are carrying weapons for self defense outside school.

“When we talk to the students who brought them to school, they're not meant to resolve conflicts in school,” he said. “They don't have a problem with their classmates. They're afraid when they're going to school and when they're leaving from school to go home.”

Nathaniel Styer, a spokesperson for the education department, noted that overall “serious incidents” – a group that includes a range of behaviors including fighting and brandishing weapons – are down 10% in schools compared to before the pandemic. He said fights are down 27%.

“Our schools are safe,” he said.

A photo of weapons seized in a city school

Police say this gun was seized in a city school

Police say this gun was seized in a city school
Elizabeth Kim/Gothamist

Adams said he wants parents to become more proactive about keeping dangerous weapons out of their children's hands.

“It means being aware, being involved, and being direct,” he said. “If kids are getting involved in guns, we need to intervene and get help right away.”

The mayor said he would renew his 2011 video where he instructed parents how to search their children’s backpacks — the updated version showing parents how to monitor kids’ social media and what they are following.

Adams said he will consider locking doors to schools and said he wants to develop more “safe corridors” so that “parents can instruct their children this is the route you’re going to take home.” He said he also wants to see more safety agents in schools and is exploring deployment of less-invasive metal detectors.

While some parents said they would appreciate that additional security, others argue hiring more security guards and installing metal detectors will make them and their children feel less safe. Some students argue scanners and school security are ineffective, criminalizing and foster a sense of distrust at school.

Aviles, a former NYPD officer, is in favor of increased security, including metal detectors, cameras and security agents . “I believe in layers of protection for our children,” she said.

Carrasco disagreed. “It scares our children constantly seeing police walking around,” she said.

“Police have never equaled safety to me or my BIPOC peers,” said Keneisha Buckley, youth leader with the Urban Youth Collaborative and a high school senior in Queens. “If they are supposed to keep us safe when students are in actual danger, why do these horrible events keep happening? It’s because police can’t and don’t prevent violence. The city should fund solutions that are actually proven to work.”