SLI: Should schools arm teachers?

SLI: Should schools arm teachers?

2016 Summer Leadership Institute

Police officer to boards: Be ready to decide on the issue of arming teachers

Kentucky School Advocate
July/August 2016

By Vickie Mitchell
Staff writer
Veteran Madisonville Police Maj. Robert R. Carter made it plain from the start – he would not preach any particular gospel in his Summer Leadership Institute session about whether schools should arm teachers and other school personnel. “When I stand here in this training, I remain unbiased,” he said.

Instead, Carter shared information about a complex issue to help school boards make more informed decisions before they are pushed to act. Based on actions taken in other states, Carter believes pressure is mounting for schools to take more extensive security measures, and arming teachers and other personnel is among the options.
Madisonville Police Maj. Robert R. Carter talks to McLean County
school board Chairman Bill Lovell following Carter’s session at the
Summer Leadership Institute.

Carter advised school leaders to “have your research and decision made. Individuals will be challenging you to make a decision and trying to push you with their agenda.”

In Kentucky, firearms are banned on school grounds, but local school boards can make exceptions. As Carter reminded his audience, “You are the decision makers.”

Carter’s presentation encouraged school leaders to voice their thoughts, concerns and personal experiences, and school board members and teachers Suzanne Duncan (Hopkins County board) and Sandy Faris (Fleming County) quickly made it clear that as teachers, they would not want to be armed. Many front-line educators share their sentiment, Carter said, including the majority of those in Boone County, who said they did not want to be armed when they were polled two years ago. Their school board was under pressure by a small but vocal part of the community to have the district sign on for a firearms training course for school personnel.

Karen Byrd, a KSBA board member and former chair of the Boone County School Board, said her board listened to all sides then put the question to teachers. “Our principals went back and talked to staff and, overwhelmingly, they said ‘This is not what we got into education for.’”

Arming school personnel raises a multitude of issues, Carter said, including who should be armed, how to choose who should be armed without raising allegations of discrimination, and how much and what type of firearms training should be required.

School boards also must realize that they are responsible for the actions of an armed teacher or employee and that professional training would be critical, but also expensive and time-consuming, Carter said.

“If you as a school district make the decision to allow any of your employees to be armed, you are responsible for their training,” he said.

Carter showed two news clips to illustrate the problems caused by inadequate or poor training. In one, a teacher with minimal training shows off her weapon – a pink derringer that Carter’s research found to be among the least-expensive and least-reliable weapons available.

When Carter asked his audience, “Would you want your kids in the room with her?” the answer was a resounding ‘no.’

The other clip showed an armed school security guard in a long standoff with an armed school intruder. Although the incident ended without injury, the guard put the school at great risk because she did not follow standard security protocol and shoot the intruder, Carter said.

Among the other challenges: how to ensure that a school staffer not only knows how to use a gun, but is willing to do so. That could include shooting a student shooter, which the KSBA group acknowledged would be extremely difficult for most teachers.

From a law enforcement standpoint, having armed school personnel would make it difficult for police arriving at a scene to distinguish between a shooter and school security. “How do you know?” Carter said. “Police assume that anyone with the gun is the shooter.”

By the end of the session, there was less enthusiasm for arming teachers than at the beginning, although there was agreement that school security must be increased, especially in rural areas where it may take longer for local police to arrive.

“If you asked me do I believe that in the future every school is going to have a law enforcement officer, I would say ‘yes,’” Carter said. The key, he said, might be to look to law enforcement for security personnel rather than teachers and school staff. “It would be easier to have a law enforcement officer become an educator, than an educator become a law enforcement officer.”
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