Survey: Teachers Feel Safe at School; Decline Carrying Guns

By Nirvi Shah — February 26, 2013 4 min read
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While state lawmakers and some school districts have their sights set on arming school employees, a new survey of nearly 11,000 educators finds that the majority of them don’t have any interest in packing heat in class.

The survey results, released Wednesday by the professional development company School Improvement Network, found that about 72 percent of teachers and administrators said they would be unlikely to bring a firearm to school even if they were allowed to do so. And of those who already own weapons, less than 40 percent would choose to bring them to class if they could.

The survey, conducted about six weeks after the violent shooting at Sandy Hook Elementary in Newtown, Conn., also found that while about 92 percent of teachers generally feel safe at school, they do worry about gun violence on campus. About 14 percent of those who feel their schools are safe generally worry their schools are not protected from gun violence.

That paradox was unexpected for Chet Linton, the chief executive officer of the Midvale, Utah-based School Improvement Network. He hypothesized that guns, unfamiliar to many, are feared in part because they are an unknown.

In Utah, coincidentally, anyone with a concealed weapons permit can carry their firearms onto school grounds without special permission from anyone, as I wrote in this recent piece exploring the idea of arming teachers. (Check out the interactive image below for more on that.) It’s far more difficult in most other states to carry weapons on campus, although Texas allows school boards to grant employees that option. New Hampshire is now considering allowing teachers to carry guns, as is Alabama, to name a few.

A proposal in Maine would require high schools to offer gun-safety courses to high school students.

Giving Teachers a Say

The School Improvement Network‘s survey included teachers and administrators from all 50 states, Linton said, from districts of all types. The company, with about 900,000 educators in its professional development network, frequently surveys its users, but has never explored school safety before, he said. But teachers and administrators needed a way to express their opinions, just as policymakers and education associations have over the last few months.

On Wednesday, the U.S. House education committee will hear testimony about school safety in a post-Newtown world. (Follow @Rulz4Engagement on Twitter for a look at what’s going on, and look for a blog post wrapping things up right here, Wednesday afternoon.)

Teachers said their schools have already taken some steps to improve security since the Sandy Hook shootings—the deadliest K-12 school shooting in U.S. history. About 33 percent reported that their schools have added new door-locking systems, leave fewer doors open, or have taken other steps involving access to campus. Roughly another third said their schools have added security cameras or new lockdown procedures. About 20 percent have done more safety drills specifically on how they would deal with an armed intruder—something that had become more common even before Sandy Hook. About 10 percent have added or increased police presence on campus.

Resource Officers or Armed Guards?

While educators aren’t very interested in carrying guns themselves, 88 percent of those surveyed said an armed police officer on campus would boost safety. Linton said the question educators were asked specifically used the term police officer, not armed guard, terms that carry very different meanings to many. A week after the Newtown shootings, the National Rifle Association called for adding armed guards on every campus.

That proposal worries civil rights advocates, who already have issues with the number of students arrested on campus, sometimes for incidents that could otherwise be handled by school administrators. And the National Association of School Resource Officers—a leader of which will testify on Capitol Hill on Wednesday—told me recently that such a proposal worries him, too.

“When you’re talking about a [school resource officer], that’s a career law enforcement officer, not just an armed guard or armed officer—it’s much more holistic than that,” said Mo Canady, executive director of the school resource officer group, which is based in Hoover, Ala. School resource officers do more than patrol the halls for shooters, he said. They teach specific lessons—such as on the dangers of drugs and alcohol—and they should be building relationships with students, who can then confide in them concerns about safety they may have.

Whether proposals for armed guards, arming teachers, or other safety measures take hold, and last, following the Sandy Hook massacre is uncertain. But the proposals keep coming, including more from the NRA. The group said recently that it has a comprehensive plan for improving school safety in the works.

Arming teachers, the group said, is not among its goals.

PHOTO: 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.—Lance Rosenfield/Prime for Education Week

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