In the runup to Election Day, Education Week is featuring stories of teachers who are running for their state legislatures.
Janna Lind, a 32-year-old U.S. government high school teacher in Montana, was so upset when a student robbed another student at gunpoint at a school where her husband is principal that she filed to run for state legislature. She wants her state—where more than half the residents own guns—to explicitly ban weapons on school campuses and she’s made the issue a key piece of her campaign. (The state currently leaves it up to local school boards to decide.)
“I think [guns in school] causes a safety hazard for our students,” Lind, a Democrat running for the state House of Representatives, said. “And there are better ways to make schools safe than bringing more guns into schools.”
Lind is one of more than 150 classroom teachers across the nation who this year filed to run for their state legislature, according to an Education Week analysis. About 100 teachers made it past the primary.
February’s deadly shooting at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School in Parkland, Fla., supercharged a national debate over whether teachers should be allowed to carry guns into school. For Lind, that debate hit close to home.
In January this year, a student at Hardin High School, in Hardin, Mont., where Lind’s husband is principal, attempted to rob a student of lunch money at gunpoint, according to local media reports. Art teacher Nora Bettina Block was reportedly given the Glock 27 by another student, and she subsequently hid the gun in her desk overnight. The next day, she reported to local police that she had discovered the gun under a student’s desk.
Police arrested Block and charged her with having a weapon in a school building and obstructing a police officer. In October, a jury convicted her of felony tampering with evidence and misdemeanor obstruction of a peace officer. She faces up to 10 years in jail.
That the teacher could end up in jail was the result of an unclear and confusing set of laws that determine who can carry weapons in Montana’s schoolhouses, Lind said. She wants Montana to have a statewide policy concerning guns in schools.
“It would be nice for the state to give parameters and for the state to define clearly the consequences if a lethal weapon is brought into the school building,” Lind said.
But her opponent, incumbent Sue Vinton, a Republican, says who on campuses should be allowed to carry weapons should be determined by local school boards, not the state.
“Montana is a very diverse state with both rural and urban schools,” said Vinton, who serves on the state’s education committee. “I think local school boards are in the best position to make these sorts of decisions.”
Regarding whether teachers should be armed, she said, “I can’t think of a teacher who should be able to carry a gun but, then again, I don’t know all teachers.”
Montana is one of 12 states that allow school staff members to carry guns in schools. But, unlike some other states, staff members can carry guns in schools only if their school board approves of it. According to the Billings Gazette, only three school districts allow for employees to carry guns.
In a state where residents regularly carry concealed weapons with them, Lind said it’s not well-known throughout the state that most school boards don’t allow staff members to carry guns on campus. Lind also serves as a local school board member.
Since filing to run earlier this spring, she has knocked on hundreds of doors and talked to voters about her stance on gun control, not a popular position in Montana. She’s emphasized to voters that, as a teacher, she has the sort of experience that can better inform the state legislature on what schools deal with on a daily basis.
And she said she wanted to set an example for her students.
“As a government teacher, I need to step up to the plate if I’m asking my kids to be active citizens.”
Photo contributed by Jana Lind
A version of this news article first appeared in the State EdWatch blog.