AZ teachers talk: Should teachers carry guns in the classroom and other issues raised by Parkland shooting

PHOENIX – The shooting that killed 17 students and teachers in Parkland, Florida, has sparked student walkouts, launched angry debates on Facebook and Twitter and spurred gun-restriction policies from the White House to statehouses across the country.

Teachers have been drawn into the conversations, cast into roles as student protectors – possibly armed.

President Donald Trump proposed providing federal funds to provide some school employees with “rigorous” firearms training and asked Education Secretary Betsy DeVos to chair a task force to recommend policy and funding proposals to prevent school violence.

Cronkite News’ Public Insight Network asked Arizona educators for their thoughts on teachers trained to carry guns in the classroom, shielding students during an active shooting situation and other questions raised in the wake of the shootings at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School in Parkland.

More than a dozen teachers responded by email. Some wanted more funding for mental health services, some wanted metal detectors installed at the entrances to schools and some expressed concerns about walking into a classroom armed with a gun. Their responses have been edited for length and clarity.

Do you think teachers should be trained to shoot and carry guns in school?

“Absolutely not. … Our focus needs to be on our students, and having guns in the classroom is dangerous and horrifying. I, for one, would quit my job before carrying a gun to school.”
– Lori Hart, Grades 9-12 at Cactus Shadows High School

“All the training in the world isn’t going to prevent three guys on the football team from wrestling it away from me, out of my holster. … I’m a trained shooter and I don’t think it’s appropriate to also have to be the guy with the gun. I’m willing to, but I don’t think it will make it safe.”
– Russel Potter, Grades 11 and 12 at Cactus High School

“Teachers have more than enough to do at this time without the added responsibility of carrying a loaded weapon. … With all of this, when would they be trained or continue the marksmanship training necessary to be effective in this new, dangerous role?”
– James Crawford, Grade 2 at C.J. Jorgensen Elementary School

Law enforcement officials said some of the adults at Stoneman Douglas High shielded students from harm, and some died saving lives. Do you think teachers should be willing to risk their lives for their students?

“Nobody is paid to be a human shield. However, most of the teachers I know would protect their students with their lives because that’s the kind of people who stay in teaching as a career.”
– Larry Frederick, who teaches Grades K-5 at Lincoln Elementary School

“I think teachers are willing. Should you ask them to is a different question. Many teachers have families and responsibilities of their own, outside the classroom. Their families might be left destitute in the event of their death.”
– James Crawford, Grade 2 at C.J. Jorgensen Elementary School

Arizona schools are required to do regular lockdown drills to prepare for an emergency. Do you believe these drills are well-planned and frequent enough to influence the outcome of an active shooter situation?

“No, and I doubt they could be. That’s just not the kind of thing you can seriously keep in your head and still go to school and teach every day.”
– Larry Frederick, Grades K-5 at Lincoln Elementary School

“Nothing can prevent a determined shooter from getting into a school (see: Newton, Sandy Hook) but the lockdown drills will keep many of the children, if not all, safe.”
– Barbara Formichella, kindergarten at Desert Sun Child Development Center

“The risk of trauma is too great to inject sufficient realism in the moment. I’ve seen schools that did live-fire training, others that did live-shooter (with paintballs) training. I’m not sure it makes the school safer. Further, the more you practice, the more the crazy guy with the gun knows about your potential responses and how to go around them.”
– Russel Potter, Grades 11 and 12 at Cactus High School

News reports say there were clear warning signs the accused Parkland shooter was dangerous. Do you believe the Arizona educational system has enough accountability built in to help such students and ensure other students’ safety?

“Mental health is a mystery to most people and, again, not the job of teachers to psychoanalyze their students. We need better health care to deal with this problem.”
– Lori Hart, Grades 9-12 at Cactus Shadows High School

“We lack funding, professional counselors and social workers to assist teachers with identification and treatment for students with needs. … When a student is identified, there are limited supports available to deal with the problems presented.
– James Crawford, Grade 2 at C.J. Jorgensen Elementary School

Should Arizona school buildings be retrofitted or constructed differently so classroom windows and doors open inward, so they can be blocked from inside? Should security systems similar to airports and other government buildings be installed at school entrances?

“No. These are schools, not prisons.”
– Larry Frederick, Grades K-5 at Lincoln Elementary School

“We can’t afford to buy calculators or crayons. I can’t see how we are going to afford to install security cameras and metal detectors. Furthermore, you simply can’t make schools into Fort Knox. … I can’t imagine Arizona ponying up ANY money to fix that and upgrade at any school, much less at every school that needs it.”
– Russel Potter, Grades 11 and 12 at Cactus High School

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