Brockton teacher’s letter about shooting creates discussion

Elaine Allegrini

A letter written by a Brockton High School teacher in the wake of a shooting outside the school stirred a firestorm of responses this week.

Doug Van Gorder of Quincy, a math teacher at Brockton High School for 12 years, wrote the letter, which has been called “confusing” and “off the wall” and is being discussed on national blogs.

“It seems like he’s debating with himself the procedures for dealing with violence in schools,” said Brockton High School Principal Susan Szachowicz.

The letter, which appeared in The Boston Globe on Monday, discussed procedures taken during a violent incident — lock-down versus exodus — and the pros and cons of teachers licensed to carry concealed firearms in schools.

“But as a progressive, I would sooner lay my child to rest than succumb to the belief that the use of a gun for self-defense is somehow not in itself a gun crime,” Van Gorder wrote.

Szachowicz said she read that sentence 10 times and was still confused. She said she is not sure of the purpose of the letter.

“It’s kind of vague,” she said. “To me, if you’re writing a letter you have a strong, clear opinion. I had a hard time determining what his opinion was.

“Certainly, he is not in any way speaking for me, for Brockton High School or Brockton public schools,” she said. “The letter was written as an individual. It seems to come out of the blue.”

She said the after-school shooting outside the school earlier this month was discussed the next day with students and staff, but not since.

The victim was a former student shot after a confrontation that started in the gym during sports activity and ended outside on the stairs with the shooting. He was taken to a local hospital for treatment. The shooter has not been arrested.

School officials say Van Gorder is entitled to his opinion.

“Freedom of speech,” said School Committee Vice Chairman Richard Bath. “You can comment as long as you don’t yell ‘fire’ in a closed theater.”

Van Gorder would not offer an explanation or respond to the comments.

“The letter speaks for itself,” he said when reached by phone at his Quincy home Tuesday.

He declined to say anything else.

Superintendent Matthew Malone said through a spokesperson that freedom of expression is one of the most important lessons taught in Brockton schools.

“It’s his opinion,” the spokesperson said.

School Committee member Thomas Minichiello of Ward 1 said, “Everyone has their right to an opinion on current situations in society, including Brockton. We, as a School Committee, are not ignoring the situation.

“If he has strong beliefs, he is welcome to share them with the superintendent of the School Committee,” said Minichiello. “We’d be happy to listen to all things to make sure the school environment is safe.”

A review of school security policies is under way by the superintendent in concert with a consultant, incoming Mayor Linda Balzotti and others, according to city officials.

The teacher’s letter is the subject of blogs on many national Web sites and on, a local Web site.

“I don’t know what to think of it,” said Administrator David Heidke.

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Enterprise writer Elaine Allegrini can be reached at