School & District Management

For the Record: Not All Educators Oppose Arming Teachers, Staff

By Denisa R. Superville — February 23, 2018 3 min read
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While many educators disagree with President Trump’s proposal to arm some teachers and school staff to prevent school shootings, Jeffrey Woofter, the superintendent of West Virginia’s Barbour County school district, is not one of them.

Woofter, a former sheriff, does not think that all school personnel should be armed.

But he believes that trained staff—teachers, administrators, or custodians—should be allowed to carry concealed weapons or have access to concealed weapons on campus.

That would make schools much safer—not more dangerous—and allow school officials to respond faster in the case of a school shooting, and ultimately save lives, he said in an interview. West Virginia law bars firearms inside schools unless the person is a certified law enforcement officer.

Budgetary constraints have prevented the districts have putting school resource officers in all of its seven schools. While there are resource officers at the high school, local officers regularly visit the middle schools, they are not permanently stationed there, said the superintendent, whose district is located about 120 miles from Pittsburgh.

“Schools are just sitting ducks because people know that you are not permitted to carry in schools, and that just makes them vulnerable,” Woofter said.

President Trump made the proposal about possibly arming teachers on Wednesday after meeting with school shooting survivors and parents. Last week’s shooting at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School in Parkland, Fla., which left 17 dead, has been followed by a clamor for more gun control measures.

The president’s proposal was panned by educator groups. Some teachers asked to be armed instead with supplies to do their jobs. Others threatened to quit. And some Parkland educators who spoke with Education Week reporter Evie Blad pushed back on the idea.

Trump clarified his remarks on Thursday, saying that he supported allowing trained staff, such as those with military backgrounds, to carry guns. He also floated the possibility of a monetary bonus for those who did so.

In 15 states, districts can allow select personnel to carry concealed loaded guns in schools.

The Toppenish School District in Washington state, for example, adopted a policy in 2014 to allow trained administrators to carry guns, the local PBS station KTCS 9 reported. Education Week and News Hour correspondent Kavitha Cardoza reported in December on the debate over whether educators should be armed on campus.

Lori Lowe, the superintendent of the Morgan Local School District in McConnelsville, Ohio, who supports arming educators, told Cardoza that student safety was her primary concern. It can take up to half an hour for police to respond to some schools during an emergency in her rural school district, she said.

A ‘Line of Defense’

Woofter, the West Virginia superintendent, stressed that any move to arm school staff should require extensive training and certification, and the staff cannot be mandated to carry, he said.

“I don’t think you can safely put a weapon on someone who is not comfortable having it and using it if need be—heaven forbid,” he said.

Woofter’s thinking is informed in part by his career in law enforcement—he served two terms as the elected sheriff in Hancock County before going into teaching—and by 2015 incident that occurred at the district’s Philip Barbour High School just days into his first school year as a superintendent.

A 14-year-old student wielding a handgun held a class hostage, but a teacher and the local police department were able to talk down the student without any physical injuries or fatalities.

While the teacher did a “heroic job,” things could have ended differently if the student had started firing upon entering the school and school officials had to wait five minutes for the police to arrive, he said.

He said he did not want to turn schools into fortresses with metal detectors at every entrance. And he also knew that even with significant firearm training police still make mistakes.

But having some school officials who were prepared to respond in emergencies makes sense, he said.

“I would feel more comfortable if I knew there were trained people in a school building, that no one knows they are armed, just in case a tragic situation starts to unfold,” he said. “At least there would be some protection—a line of defense—which doesn’t exist right now.”

As an additional deterrent, schools could display warning signs that the premises were protected by personnel carrying concealed weapons, but the identity of those carrying the weapons would not be revealed, he said.

And while Woofter is supportive of having trained, armed educators on campus, he doesn’t plan to spearhead such an effort in West Virginia.

“But I’d absolutely lend my support to it,” he said.

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A version of this news article first appeared in the District Dossier blog.