New Year, New Fear
It seems as if we just came out of the holidays with our gaze set on summer. Is it as difficult for you to believe as it is for me that summer break is over already? In many districts, teachers have decorated classrooms, completed in-service sessions, written lesson plans and are welcoming returning students as schools open for the new school year.
At the close of the last school term, everyone needed a break with the onslaught of planned attacks and actual school shootings that frequented the news. According to a CNN report in late May, there were twenty-three school shootings throughout the country in the first twenty-one weeks of 2018. There are no words that adequately convey the magnitude of these tragedies for the families, friends, and colleagues of those lost to this senseless violence. Whether it was one, like in Birmingham, AL and Jackson, MS, or the seventeen left dead in Parkland, FL, every life lost matters.
As devastating as it was to hear these reports on an almost weekly basis, the public has been even more taken aback to learn that one of the considerations for addressing this issue is arming teachers inside the classroom. While this move has gained a great deal of conversation as well as criticism this year, it isn’t a new topic by any means. In 2016, the Washington Post reported that districts across the country were quietly doing this. In response to the shooting at Sandy Hook Elementary School in Sandy Hook, New Jersey, schools in California, Oklahoma, Ohio, Utah and other states put these measures in place. Even in Texas, more districts are allowed teachers to be armed after the Santa Fe incident that claimed 10 lives. The number of districts with armed teachers just this year has now risen from 172 to at least 217 according to Caller Times.
My circle is filled with a number of people close to me who are teachers. Of that group, I do recall one campus security threat last year. Fortunately, it wasn’t a direct attack and ended without incident. Still, my concern for their safety has increasingly grown as these reports have almost become commonplace. With the start of the new school year, I was curious about how teachers feel about returning to school amidst this unresolved issue.
I decided to poll this relatively large group with the question: “Would you feel comfortable being armed as a teacher?” Needless to say, there were emotional responses, for and against. The majority of those polled were strongly against it. Many of them went as far as to say that as much as they love teaching, they would quit if they were required to have a gun in their classroom. They just don’t feel that they want to shoulder the burden of trying to teach while trying to keep students safe from the gun in the classroom.
One respondent against the proposition said, “This would be a major distraction for me because I would constantly worry about the safety of my students while trying to keep the gun in a place readily available for my use if necessary.” Another who wouldn’t feel comfortable carrying personally offered this perspective, “I do not feel that guns on campus in the hands of trained professionals takes away from the learning environment at all, just makes everyone feel a little safer.”
In terms of those in support, one respondent said, “I’m in full support of allowing (not mandating) teachers and other school employees to carry, provided they get a stipend for ammunition and appropriate training such as a psychological exam.” He went on to talk about the risks as well as the district’s need to mitigate the associated legal damages. Another respondent said, “I absolutely would (carry) - I do think that it would be best to not broadcast who has a gun and who doesn’t. The kids wouldn’t need to know unless there was an actual “event” to protect them from. I think people are envisioning teachers wearing them on their hips – that’s not the case.” One other respondent said, “I'm not biting at the bit for a law to be made, but yes, I'd be comfortable carrying.”
What I found to be most interesting were the responses from teachers who are already licensed to carry. One respondent said, “I have my CHL. I am not sure that I would feel comfortable carrying daily. I’m not opposed to having quick access if needed.” Another said, “If I had much more extensive training and better equipment than I own for personal use, I would be comfortable. I have my CHL but that wouldn’t be good enough. I would also want to lose weight and be more physically fit than I am now - my aerobic conditioning is terrible. I have always said, I would rather die trying to protect my students than to die an unarmed hero if I was in a worst-case scenario.” One final respondent said, “I’m an LTC instructor as well as an NRA certified pistol and rifle instructor. It takes a lot of practice to become that comfortable. I wouldn't force being armed on anybody.”
These responses bring up the many aspects of what real preparation looks like if you are going to arm teachers. I hope that decision-makers understand this because it is going to require more than just licensing people. We are far from putting this hot topic to rest as there are so many questions that must be answered. Who would carry? Would carrying be optional? If not every teacher is required to carry, what would be the criteria used to qualify who carries? What education and training would take place? Would the school issue guns and ammunition to teachers? The list goes on.
Clearly, no one has all the answers. What I believe that we all can agree on is that any plan to protect teachers, students and administrators should be safety-focused. Also, any policies or practices implemented should allow for the least amount of margin for error. It will be interesting to see what lies ahead as all of us want to see a resolution.
As you go into this school year, be safe, be aware and be open to how you can help create a safer environment for your school.