School Climate & Safety

Calls to Arm Teachers Meet Resistance From Parkland Educators, Leaders

By Evie Blad — February 22, 2018 6 min read
Smoke and shell casings fly as teachers and staff from Clifton Independent School District in Clifton, Texas, fire handguns at a range just outside of Clifton during training on what they need to know to get a license to carry a concealed gun.
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Even before President Donald Trump proposed training and arming teachers in response to a mass shooting at a Parkland, Fla., high school, some teachers there said they wouldn’t want to carry a weapon in their classrooms.

In a meeting on school security Thursday, Trump proposed offering bonuses to qualified teachers who carry guns, according to pool reports.

“If you harden the sites you’re not going to have this problem,” he said.

The idea of arming teachers—or loosening state restrictions to allow concealed-carry permit holders to bring guns into schools—is often circulated after school attacks, as policymakers and educators explore how to make schools safer. Trump first raised the idea Wednesday after meeting with survivors of school shootings and their families, including students who attend Parkland’s Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School, where 17 people were killed and 15 injured in a school shooting last week.

But the idea is often met with resistance from educators, who say they don’t want to add concerns about carrying and securing a firearm to their already demanding jobs. Parkland teachers who spoke to Education Week had similar concerns.

“I’ve not talked to one who agrees that we should be armed,” Broward Teachers Union President Anna Fusco said Sunday after she’d spent the weekend meeting with teachers of Stoneman Douglas High School and other schools in the district.

Teachers there say school security should be performed by armed, trained law enforcement officers who would be more prepared to respond to a threat, she said.

“If they can make sure jewelry stores and banks can have armed officers who are trained and certified to be armed, that shows that product is more important than people,” Fusco said.

‘Guns in the Hands of Teachers’

Stoneman Douglas High School has an armed school resource officer, but he did not encounter the gunman or discharge his weapon during last week’s attack, Sheriff Scott Israel has said. He has since announced plans to have the district’s qualified school-based officers carry rifles.

Speaking at a CNN town hall with survivors Wednesday, Israel said he didn’t support proposals to arm teachers. Broward County Superintendent Robert Runcie also dismissed the proposal, siding with teachers around the country who’ve said schools could better use their resources on other priorities.

“We don’t need to put guns in the hands of teachers,” Runcie said. “You know what we need? We need to arm our teachers with more money in their pockets.”

Florida Sen. Marco Rubio agreed.

“As a father, and as someone who’s talked to plenty of teachers ... I don’t support that,” he said.

Rubio was responding to a question from Ashley Kirth, a culinary arts teacher who sheltered 65 students in her classroom during the shootings.

“And when I had those hundreds of terrified children that were running at me, my question to that is, am I supposed to get extra training now to serve and protect on top of educate these children? On how to be these eloquent speakers that are coming up and presenting issues to you?” asked Kirth, who said she supports the second amendment and voted for Trump. “I mean, am I supposed to have a Kevlar vest? Am I supposed to strap it to my leg or put it in my desk?”

Stoneman Douglas science teacher Adeena Teres told Education Week Monday that she doesn’t want to carry a weapon.

“I think we should have more security at school, but I don’t want our school to feel like a prison,” she said, adding that she has a concealed-carry permit and it was “extremely easy” to get.

Teres spent some time in Israel, where there are more armed people in public places like schools, but the culture and the norms are different there, she said.

“For our students, I’m not sure they’re used to seeing that,” she said.

Those Parkland teachers join other school shooting survivors who’ve opposed plans to arm teachers. Some have organized to campaign against changes to state laws that would make it easier to carry weapons in schools. They organized last year, concerned that Trump would follow through on a campaign promise to push for ending federal gun-free school zones that he once referred to as “bait” for a “sicko” who may attack a school.

The federal law prohibits carrying or discharging guns within 1,000 feet of public or private school grounds unless a person is specifically authorized to do so by a state.

That group is concerned that armed teachers may confuse first responders in the case of an emergency, that no amount of training could prepare them to both teach and respond to shooting situations, which are often complicated and fast moving, and that public energy should be focused on other priorities, like encouraging parents to secure guns at home.

There’s little data on how many teachers carry guns in states where they are authorized to do so, though school safety experts say districts often resist “opting in” when they are given a choice.

School safety consultant Ken Trump, who is not related to the president, said in a statement Wednesday that teachers should not be armed, joining leaders of teachers unions and other national organizations that do not support the proposal.

“School districts considering arming teachers and school staff with guns would take on significant responsibility and potential liabilities that I firmly believe are beyond the expertise, knowledge-base, experience, and professional capabilities of most school boards and administrators,” Trump said.

The National Association of School Resource Officers, which trains school police, also spoke out against the idea Thursday, saying in a statement that “firearm skills degrade quickly” and require regular training.

“Anyone who hasn’t received the extensive training provided to law enforcement officers will likely be mentally unprepared to take a life, especially the life of a student assailant,” the organization said.

Exploring Security Options

Not everyone in Parkland has dismissed the idea of giving trained teachers access to weapons. Some families at Wednesday’s meeting nodded when Trump asked if they would support arming some teachers.

Josh Castellanos, who has two daughters in the 11th grade at Stoneman Douglas High School, told Education Week last week that he and a group of other parents plan to conduct research on school safety and present a list of proposals to Gov. Rick Scott and state lawmakers. Among his ideas: locking rifles in boxes that can be opened with a teacher’s fingerprint in the case of an emergency. Teachers would only have access if they had tactical training, he said.

“When I watch the news, you see the armored vehicles and they’re breaching and they’re going into save the children,” said Castellanos, who was driving to the school to pick up his daughters Wednesday when he learned of the shooting. “But what’s being left out of that story is that that was 40 minutes after it had begun.”

Castellanos said having access to weapons may have made a difference last week. He said he knew Aaron Feis, a football coach who has been hailed as a hero after he died shielding students in the shooting.

“That was a man’s man,” he said. “If he had a way to protect those kids beside shielding them with his body, he would have.”

Related reading on arming teachers, school safety:

A version of this news article first appeared in the Rules for Engagement blog.