A Texas mom made an outfit for her young daughter to wear on her first day of class, but this was no ordinary outfit.
Cassie Arnold, an arts educator and mom of three created a bulletproof dress she called, "School Uniform," made of Kevlar–a heat-resistant and strong synthetic fiber commonly used as armor for protection against bullets.
Arnold's motivation for creating the outfit for her middle child was a political statement in the wake of recent school shootings and to spark conversations about gun violence in schools.
“My daughter was in kindergarten last year and she knew that her place in ‘lockdown drills’ was by the toilet in the classroom bathroom, and that she had to wait till the administrators banged on the doors, and that she had to be quiet," Arnold told Yahoo Life.
"She wasn't fazed by it. She was just like, well, this is what we do.”
In an Instagram post, she shared a photo of her daughter wearing the outfit–which is not entirely bulletproof as it was created to convey the anxiety over sending her children to school during a time when American gun violence has become normalized.
"I was pregnant with my first child and teaching middle school when Sandy Hook happened," she said, referring to the December 2012 elementary school shooting in Newtown, Connecticut, where a gunman opened fire and fatally shot twenty children and six adult staff members.
Arnold also referenced the mass shooting in Uvalde, Texas, where nineteen students and two teachers were shot and killed and 17 others were wounded by a gunman on May 24, 2022.
"It was the last week of school for my two elementary-aged daughters when Uvalde happened," she said, which made her "so fired up."
“It was the last week of school for my kids and I was in that crossfire — 'I don't want to send my kids to school, but we can't live in fear. So you have to go to school.'”
"After both of these horrible events, I was terrified by the idea of sending my children to a place where they were supposed to be safe but might be shot and killed."
She explained her daughter's outfit was created as a way to process all of her feelings but that it was initially conceived to be "satirical, to be a more extreme response to these tragedies."
"But, the real responses from some of our leaders were too close for comfort. 50 million dollar proposal for police shields. Bulletproof objects and backpacks for children."
"Vests for elementary kids in the classroom. Military personal and single entrances for all schools."
She explained the injustice of the heavy burden placed on underpaid teachers being tasked with keeping students safe in addition to educating them.
"Elections are happening in November so we have to have this conversation as kids go back to school, as our educators are underpaid,” she told the media outlet.
A recent survey showed that 70% of teachers in Texas are seriously considering quitting due to pandemic-related stresses, being underpaid, and political issues.
“We're in a huge crisis with the shortage of teachers right now."
"We're asking teachers to be counselors and parents and educators, and all the things, and now we're expecting them to protect our kids [from school shooters].”
As calls for stricter gun legislation increase in the US, Arnold encouraged other artists like herself to use their creativity to convey hard truths in more accessible ways.
“What has come of my work in the past few years is that a lot of people have the same feelings and are too ashamed to talk about them,” she said.
“And so, if that can come out of creating more work, where we can process and also have conversations, then I hope that forevermore, art will be in our world to bring people together."