Thoughts on Arming Teachers and staff on School Campuses

The gun debates will go on and on because the shootings will go on and on at school campuses across the USA. While new ideas for campus safety are being developed and discussed every day, the plethora weapons, and the ease with which they can be obtained continues to be rampant. That’s a story for another day.

In 2019, it’s about adjusting to the new normal which includes increasing incidents of active shooters on school campuses and elsewhere people congregate. The odds seem to be increasing.

My own state of Florida is in the process of debating the issue of armed faculty and staff. Our GOP-led legislature seems to be pretty intent on arming teachers and/or other school personnel. Currently, only 31 percent of Florida voters support armed teachers with 56% in opposition, according to a Florida Atlantic University poll. The National Rifle Association (NRA) and President Trump support arming teachers and for some Floridians, that in itself is enough to put them off the idea. And for some other Floridians, it’s accepted as gospel. But seriously, is it the will of (all or most of) the people?

The Florida Legislature was in session when the 2018 Stoneman-Douglas Valentine’s Day shooting took place. The incident changed the entire trajectory of the legislative session with many pre-planned state issues falling to the wayside to make way for a new school safety law and funding to quell the uneasiness of Florida residents with school children. The School Safety Act authorized a voluntary “Guardian Program” and some districts are participating in the 2018-19 school year.

The 2018 legislation excluded most classroom teachers but the Parkland Commission, which has been meeting since the end of the 2018 Legislative Session, has submitted its recommendations to the 2019 Florida Legislature. They are recommending expanding the Guardian Program to include classroom teachers and staff.

Under today’s potential active-shooter scenarios it would be ideal if we had trained law enforcement officers on each campus during the school day.  As it is, police departments and sheriffs’ offices are for the most part already underfunded and understaffed and need more funding just to increase staff and maintain effective training programs.

So, is the solution to arm teachers and staff who are already in the school during the school day? One could, and should, argue that schools too are often underfunded and understaffed as well. Teachers are already stretched to do more than just teach. Schools need more funding just to fulfill their academic responsibilities of having smaller classes and up-to-date teacher training and certification.

So, we either stretch law enforcement resources, stretch school resources, or find new sources of funding to increase one sector or both. Some think that the easy answer is to just arm teachers and staff since they’re there anyway. It’s not that simple. There are numerous issues surrounding arming civilians and preparing them to react in a stressful situation like an active-shooter situation.

Most school personnel would require initial and continuing weapons training. Firing range exercises and school simulations would be necessary. Ohio, my own home state, has implemented FASTER, a program to instruct faculty and staff on how to respond to violence. It is funded through charitable donations to the Buckeye Firearms Foundation and classes are free to school personnel.

Psychological screening is an obvious requirement for anyone being authorized to take up arms in active shooter situations. Even seasoned law enforcement officers need psychological and counseling services after they have been involved in a shooting situation. The FASTER program in Ohio also includes instruction on brain processes in an active shooter situation.

Racial profiling cannot be neglected in legislating and implementing armed faculty/staff programs on school grounds. Law enforcement is diligently working toward eliminating situations where racial profiling and bad actions or reactions occur in the course of protecting and serving the public through more training and sensitivity awareness and better interactions with communities.

Unfortunately, there are still pockets of our society where racial profiling continues to end in tragedy. Schools are not immune to racial profiling since they are microcosms of society and there is data that shows in some places, discipline is harsher for minority students than it is for white students. How would this play out in an active shooter situation and an armed teacher or staff member has to size up a desperate situation?

Law enforcement is striving to better interact with those who may have mental health or other disabilities that can be misinterpreted. Generally, in educational settings, teachers and staff are more aware of students with mental health or disabilities and this awareness could aid in the prevention of a devastating reaction by armed staff.

Most states that have armed faculty/staff programs for school safety require that armed school personnel must qualify for and obtain a state-authorized concealed carry permit. Nearly all states require sign off by both the sheriff and school district. Colorado law allows school districts to designate staff as security guards and carry guns without training. However, those participating in the insurance pool have specified training requirements.

Most of the information available as of this writing indicates that these programs are voluntary for the school districts. Rural school districts are more likely to utilize armed faculty/staff programs due to the distance away from law enforcement and response times. One of the most compelling arguments for arming faculty/staff on school campuses that do not have school resource officers is the ability of law enforcement to respond quickly enough to keep injuries and fatalities to a minimum.

How do students feel? Many students form bonds with some of their teachers. How would students react if they knew or suspected that a teacher they really like was armed? Could a teacher react appropriately if the student was involved in the shooting incident? Could they look into the face of a student and shoot?

Decisions need to be made on where the weapons are kept. Should the school staff member carry the weapon in a holster or keep them secured within the classroom or some other place on campus.

When law enforcement arrives, how can they tell who is the good guy/gal with a gun and who is the bad guy/gal with a gun? Alabama’s Sentry Program requires that an approved, marked, bullet-proof vest is required for the armed administrator in an active-shooter situation.

Most of the teachers I have talked to and many articles I have read indicate that teachers themselves do not want to be armed on campus. Many parents oppose it. Being a teacher is a calling to most and being a teacher is their identity 24/7. Can someone who has that calling go from being a teacher to a SWAT-trained shooter in a split second?

The Florida Senate Education Committee a few weeks ago approved SB 7030 amending the 2018 School Safety Act. One change in the bill is expansion of the current Guardian Program to include any school employee who volunteers and meets the requirements stipulated in the law regarding qualifications, training, screenings, etc. The Senate Bill has two more committees of reference before it goes to the Senate Floor and the Florida House has yet to introduce a companion or similar bill. The Florida Legislative Session begins on March 5 and has 60 days to process legislation.

Should legislation be passed to include arming classroom faculty and other staff? I still have mixed feelings. I’d like to know what you think.