Almost two weeks after the tragic school shooting in Parkland, Fla., debates over how best to ensure school safety rage on.
Increased gun control. Improved mental health treatment. Stronger monitoring of children’s access to violent video games and movies–proposals vary.
But perhaps the most hotly debated and controversial idea is one proposed by President Trump and others late last week to arm teachers who are highly trained in weapons or combat procedures. The president also suggested that schools provide bonuses to teachers who undergo weapons training.
President Trump said that arming teachers would transform schools from “soft” to “hardened” targets that would deter potential attackers.
As the New York Times reports, the president’s proposal drew enthusiastic support from the National Rifle Association–which proposed similar measures after the 2012 Sandy Hook shooting–as well as sharp opposition from many teachers unions, education organizations, and law enforcement officials.
As the national controversy over armed teachers continues, school leaders will be asked to have hard conversations at home–understanding all the arguments, emotions, and facts surrounding the issue.
Many in the education community rebuked the president’s proposal, saying that armed teachers would not ensure safe schools and that resources should go to supporting teachers’ core mission: educating students.
Robert Runcie, superintendent of Broward County Public Schools, the district where the Parkland shooting happened, pushed back on the idea of arming teachers in a speech last week at a CNN town hall event:
“We don’t need to put guns in the hands of teachers. You know what we need? We need to arm our teachers with more money in their pockets. This country pays a lot of lip service to the importance of the teaching profession, but we never put our money behind it. Let teacher compensation, benefits, and working conditions be part of this national debate as well.”
On social media, as The 74 reports, teachers across the country used the hashtag #ArmMeWith to list the resources, supplies, and training they’d prefer in their classrooms instead of weapons.
#ArmMeWith people not guns. pic.twitter.com/IMZ3AgmvUZ
— EESSchoolCounselors (@counselor_ees) February 23, 2018
Supporting all the teachers out there✊?#ARMMEWITH #boredteachers @RJPalacio pic.twitter.com/rI6EqWW7D5
— Ms. Burak (@MsBuraksclass) February 23, 2018
Making the debate local–and public
It’s important to note that armed teacher policies aren’t new, or even hypothetical.
A video report from Education Week and the PBS NewsHour, released before the most recent shooting tragedy, reported that 15 states have some sort of concealed carry laws for teachers and another 24 states considered similar policies in 2017, though many of those were defeated.
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The NewsHour reported from a gun safety course in Ohio, where school leaders and teachers are trained on handling and using firearms. While many educators stand against arming teachers, not everyone opposes these measures.
As Erin Knox, an Ohio gun owner and elementary school teacher, tells the NewsHour:
“It’s for selfish reasons. My own children go to my school, so I want to know what to do if there would be an active killer. [I want to know] how to keep my kids safe and everybody else’s kids safe.”
For more, check out the full NewsHour report below:
While Ohio is just one of several states that allows teachers to carry firearms, a few districts in the state have chosen not to make their concealed carry policies public, according to a report from My Dayton Daily News.
As Chris Burrow, superintendent of Georgetown Exempted Village Schools, told My Dayton Daily News, “We decided to be transparent. We went to training this summer, and there were districts that did not tell their communities.”
Ensuring safe schools is priority No. 1 for every district. No matter the policies they pursue–be it school entry systems or arming teachers–districts need to have tough, but honest conversations with parents, teachers, and staff before making hard policy decisions.
How has your school or district reacted to the national debate over school safety? Tell us in the comments.