Armed school-based officers were once unthinkable, but over the past 15 years they have become a familiar sight (“Shootings Redefine Beat of School Police Officers,” The New York Times, Jul. 26). I think their presence will become more commonplace as concerns about mass killings overcome concerns about criminalizing minor infractions.
When I began teaching in 1964, the high school where I spent my entire 28-year career relied on one administrator who was expected to roam the sprawling campus looking for troublemakers. These usually were students who were cutting class or smoking in rest rooms. But as the city around the school slowly began to change, the principal realized that more security was needed to prevent tragedies. Accordingly, he requested and received the immediate assignment of permanent school-district officers.
Surprisingly, the faculty was split on the matter. Many teachers felt that the presence of armed officers had no place in school because they sent the “wrong message” to students and parents. I never understood their thinking. I’m sure the same teachers would feel quite differently today in light of the mass killings and other acts of violence. But that was long ago.
What is more likely to happen is that there will be an increase in criminal charges against students for misbehavior such as cursing teachers and shoving matches (“With Police in Schools, More Children in Court,” The New York Times, Apr. 12, 2013). But the argument that placing officers in schools does not improve safety, as a criminologist at the University of Maryland maintained, is hard to believe.
More controversial today, however, is the question of arming teachers. Unless there is an armed security officer in every classroom all day long, there is always the possibility that students can become victims of violence. That’s because every minute counts in responding to a threat. By the time an officer arrives, it can be too late. That’s why several states since Sandy Hook have enacted legislation allowing teachers to carry guns (“Amid an epidemic of school shootings, some teachers are being trained to shoot back,” The Kansas City Star, Jun. 21).
But as I’ve written before, not all teachers have the necessary personality to carry a handgun and to use it. To be effective, teachers would have to regularly practice their shooting skills. I realize that in some parts of the country, handguns are found in almost all homes, and young people grow up around them. Perhaps a stronger case can be made in those states.
In the final analysis, I think it’s better to be safe than sorry. That’s why I support the hiring of professional security agents to protect everyone on school grounds.
The opinions expressed in Walt Gardner’s Reality Check are strictly those of the author(s) and do not reflect the opinions or endorsement of Editorial Projects in Education, or any of its publications.