There are mixed reactions among local educators, students and the community on the issue of armed school personnel on school campuses.
Since the fatal Dec. 14 shooting of 27 people, including 20 children and the gunman, at Sandy Hook Elementary School in Newtown, Conn., there’s been an ongoing debate on all aspects of school safety. Among the most controversial of those debates is whether states should allow teachers to bring guns to school.
The National Rifle Association released a statement soon after the shooting, encouraging gun training for teachers. Many teachers reacted positively to the suggestion. To date, 15 states, including Texas, Oklahoma, Ohio, California, New Jersey and Illinois, have teachers waiting to participate in the Armed Teacher Training Program.
State legislators across the country, including Alabama, are debating pros and cons of armed educators.
While violence statistics in Alabama vary from year to year, educators agree there’s no single predictor of when or where an outbreak of violence will occur. They agree there’s no single fix for the problem of violence in America’s schools.
“I know there’s talk right now in the (Alabama) Legislature about firearms on campuses, but I’m certainly not in favor of it,” said Donnie Davis, principal of Deshler High School in Tuscumbia.
“It’s asking too much of teachers to expect them to be responsible for a firearm at school,” Davis said. “I don’t think there would be many teachers anywhere who’d be able to pull a trigger to kill a student.
“This is a life-ending situation, which is why the answer lies in putting more resource officers in our schools. The Legislature can help by appropriating more money for that. I’d like to see the federal government come up with money for more officers. It’s a better alternative than arming teachers.”
Waterloo School Principal Regina Adams said greater police presence, be it inside the school or outside, would help.
“The (officials) in our district are aware of where we’re located,” Adams said. “We’re no doubt the farthest out, and we do have a pretty good police presence, but could we use more? Certainly.”
Adams said she doesn’t know if arming teachers would be a positive move, and it would require a great deal of training.
“I think more in terms of this being on all of us because we all have to be more vigilant about what’s going on around us,” she said. “Officers are good to come to our school and patrol. We’d like to have an officer here constantly, but like everything else, it’s a matter of money.”
Mary Taylor, president of the Cherokee Elementary Parent-Teacher Organization and mother of an elementary and high school student, said she likes the idea of someone within the school being armed, perhaps more than one person. However, she said she realizes there’s more to it than just putting a gun in someone’s hand.
“The individual or individuals would have to be prepared at all times to deal with a crisis situation and that would take a special mindset,” she said. “For a teacher to have to size up a situation so quickly and determine if a person should be shot, that’s just a big responsibility. A police resource officer at the school would be good.”
Brooks High School senior John Johnson said the armed-teacher debate revolves around one thing: student safety.
“We (students) have no protection for ourselves,” he said. “Teachers being armed and trained would be a line of defense and protection for the students.”
Brooks senior Deion Bonton posed a hypothetical question: “What if school personnel in Connecticut had been armed? I guarantee you it would have been a much different outcome.
“Teachers definitely need to be armed. We’re about to graduate, but the rest of these kids here at this school need protection. Shootings happen at schools all over, and we’re kidding ourselves to think it’s just in other places.”
Many local teachers remain publicly mute on the issue of carrying weapons. Some have said police presence in every school is a better option.
“It’s a tough call, and I’ve thought about it a lot,” said Jamie Lynch, art teacher at McBride Elementary School in Muscle Shoals. “Maybe there should be an option for teachers to be armed, but then the question becomes, ‘How do you possibly train a teacher to deal with that kind of crisis situation?’ I would think there would have to be a great deal of training before a teacher could be armed at school.”
Parent views remain mixed on the subject as well. JoAnn Crouch, of Muscle Shoals, has two children in middle school. She said the reality of the situation is that schools won’t get more officers because of the expense. Still, her first concern as a parent is her children’s safety.
“As a parent, my first response is yes, arm teachers, because I want to do everything possible to protect my children. But because of the intense training that would be necessary, the school administrators might be the ones who need the training, from psychological evaluations to in-depth firearm training.”
Crouch said it’s a matter of putting minds at ease by knowing school children are safe.
“It would put parents’ minds at ease knowing their children aren’t defenseless at school,” she said. “I think about the teachers and staff, too. They have families to go home to also, and they deserve protection as well. It’s a difficult problem, but one that has to be addressed.”
Lisa Singleton-Rickman can be reached at 256-740-5735 or lisa.singleton-rickman@TimesDaily.com.
School violence was indicated in 2 percent of all reported violent offenses and 3 percent of all reported simple assaults in Alabama in 2011.
Of the reported offenses of school violence, 11 percent were cleared by the arrest of a juvenile and 6 percent by the arrest of an adult.
Juveniles made up 57 percent of school violence victims, representing the largest number of school violence victims in the categories of robbery, aggravated assault and simple assault categories. Of those juveniles, 42 percent were ages 13-17.
Although 43 percent of school violence offenses occurred at an elementary or secondary school, 15 percent of the victims were of elementary school age, while 42 percent of victims were middle school or high school age students.
Source: Alabama Criminal Justice Information Center report, “School Violence in Alabama, 2011.”