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June 2, 2014

New petition planned for school shelters

OKLAHOMA CITY — It’s been a little more than a year since seven children were killed when a massive tornado destroyed Plaza Towers Elementary School in Moore, but their families are still no closer to the goal of placing storm shelters in every Oklahoma public school so the lives of other children will not be in peril.

“We need to protect them. It’s a no-brainer,” said Danni Legg, the mother of 9-year-old Christopher, who died on May 20, 2013. She also is one of the organizers of Take Shelter Oklahoma, a group that backs a statewide referendum to fund school storm shelters. “It’s such an important issue with us, we can’t wait. The pain of losing a child is still fresh with me.”

The first initiative petition that would have brought a vote to Oklahoma residents was abandoned in April after the state attorney general made significant changes to the ballot title. And an effort backed by Oklahoma’s governor also failed.

Undaunted, a second try will kick off Wednesday with an event that the Rev. Jesse Jackson is scheduled to attend, said David Slane, the group’s attorney.

“He knows the issue. He understands it,” Slane said of the civil rights activist, whom Slane hopes will re-ignite interest. “We are now over one year since we lost our babies to this storm. We cannot side idly by for another year.”

The community of Joplin, Missouri, quickly moved to construct school shelters after being raked by a tornado in 2011. But advocates in Oklahoma want shelters statewide and also note the issue’s popularity has waned amid a relatively quiet spring tornado season.

“It is a really big concern,” Legg said. “Other states are looking at Oklahoma, seeing what we do.”

Nearly two years before the Moore tornado, Joplin took a direct hit on May 22, 2011 — 161 people died and nearly 7,000 homes were destroyed. Five schools were destroyed and five others were damaged, but because it happened on a Sunday, no one was at those buildings.

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