Can armed teachers save the day?

Local schools consider idea of guns in classrooms

Even if local schools were to welcome gun-toting teachers into the classroom, the districts are likely to keep the information confidential in order to protect their school safety plans from being studied and bypassed.

Reactions to President Donald Trump’s suggested solution to stop school shootings — by arming willing teachers — come in a myriad of shades, with some all for it, others completely against and others who think the conversation is distracting from other, less controversial precautions that could be implemented in schools.

Ohio law allows school boards to quietly and confidentially authorize district staff to carry weapons in their schools, something some Ohio schools are already doing. Because the authorization can be embedded in school safety plans — which are exempt from open records laws — the move can stay out of the realm of public knowledge.

And many educators say they prefer the details to be kept secret, so potential school shooters don’t have the chance to plan around district safety measures. There does not appear to be a “list” of Ohio schools that authorize staff to carry weapons.

The Ohio State Bar Association recommends school boards consider five risks before arming their teachers — the chance that a student or visitor will gain access to or control of a gun that is on school property and injure someone as a result, teachers are unlikely to have law enforcement-level training on when it is appropriate to use deadly force, whether or not school employees want the responsibility, the risk of an armed employee misusing the weapon, and insurance rate increases for schools that arm staff members.

The Ohio Federation of Teachers is against the idea.

“We appreciate that teachers are willing to take this extra step. It comes from a good place,” said OFT President Melissa Cropper. “But when you start thinking about all that could go wrong in that situation, there are too many risks involved.”

The federation calls on state legislators to require more intensive background checks, increase the age of gun purchases to 21, provide extreme risk protection orders, and close the loopholes for the sale of all guns.

“Teachers must be viewed as educators, not as security personnel,” Cropper said. “Laws restricting access to guns and funding for mental health care are a place to start this important conversation.”

But others back President Trump’s and the National Rifle Association’s stance, and say having a “good guy with a gun” on the scene of a school shooting could greatly reduce the amount of time it takes to stop a shooter.

Parent perspectives

“Say a kid pulls a gun in the middle of class and starts to shoot. The teacher could end it before the school resource officers could get to the classroom, saving how many from being killed or wounded?” said David Layman, grandfather to a student in Niles City Schools.

Mother to two in Niles City Schools, Erica Murphy said arming teachers is a viable option.

“I feel that if they want to, are comfortable enough to handle one in a situation and are trained accordingly, I don’t see a problem with it,” Murphy said.

Others say there is too much that could go wrong.

“What if the shooter is a current or former student? Some of my best friends are teachers — I know what they’re like. They would sooner stand there and try to talk to that student, try to help that student. I can’t see any of my teacher friends killing a child, and most of them still think of teenagers as children,” said Robin C. Stears, mother to a student in Girard High School.

“After Sept. 11, 2001, most all airplanes flew with a U.S. Air Marshal on board. I feel if a certain amount of teachers who felt strong enough with being allowed to carry a concealed weapon then they, with proper training and certification, could become a public school marshal,” said Tracey Marie Zeiler, whose two children graduated from Niles McKinley High School.

Bethann Nolen said guns belong in the hands of safety forces. She has grandkids in school.

“Why don’t we just add more (officers) to the schools? Why put more pressure on the teachers?” Nolen said.

Holding the conversation

Christopher J. Dray, superintendent of the Bristol Local School District, said providing more access to mental health counselors in schools help students who struggle with a variety of social and emotional issues.

“I would appreciate if some funds could be made available to small rural districts like ours to pay for school resource officers. Limited funding is an obstacle for most districts our size and additional funds could make that more realistic. I would also like to see more funding made available to provide mental health support for students that need it,” Dray said.

Many schools are engaging their students, teachers and parents in conversations about how to proceed after the school shooting that claimed 17 lives in Parkland, Florida. The story has stayed in national headlines because of a student-led movement to fight for changes in gun law.

Terry Armstrong, superintendent of Lordstown Local Schools, invited Lordstown police Chief Brent Milhoan, school principals and the school resource officer to participate in a school safety conversation with concerned families.

“The conversation with the school families was a very productive one,” Armstrong said. “Topics ranged from adding a second school resource officer to metal detectors to procedures regarding backpacks — we began checking all bags and backpacks as students come in the building, and some at the meeting suggested not permitting backpacks.”

The participants discussed arming teachers, Armstrong said, but the school board has not determined if that is a direction the district will take.

Trumbull Career & Technical Center holds a safety review every year, said Superintendent Jason P. Gray. Invited are the FBI, the Ohio State Highway Patrol, Champion police and fire departments, the director of the Trumbull Emergency Management Agency and the Trumbull County Sheriff’s Office, to review the high school’s safety plan.

Gray said he is open to exploring arming school staff that are willing and able, but does not want to reveal aspects of the school’s safety plan.

“If something were to happen in the building and we called law enforcement, on their best day they can be there in six to eight minutes. Imagine the damage that can be done in six to eight minutes,” Gray said.

Whether or not schools arm teachers, they need to work closely with the local arm of law enforcement, Gray said.

Police need to know the details of the school safety plan so they know how to get in the building when it is on lockdown, if there are any armed staff, what safety measurers are already in place and the best routes for communication with staff during a crisis, Gray said.

“In a proper lockdown, a teacher shouldn’t need a gun. Safety measures in place — like locks and safety glass — should prevent a shooter from getting into the classroom. And the teacher would not be expected to leave a safe classroom and go track down a shooter. It could help if a student started shooting in class. But still, is it safe for a teacher to shoot a gun in a classroom full of kids?” Gray said.

Police

It isn’t safe, said Trumbull County Sheriff’s Office Maj. Dan Mason and Niles police Capt. John Marshall.

“I think it is a horrible idea,” Mason said.

Police officers are required to go through hours of training every year, and some still make bad, split-second choices when it comes to using lethal force, Mason said.

“And now, we want someone with a weekend-long training course to get a gun, bring it in a school and then have to make the decision whether or not to take someone’s life? In school shooting situations, it is chaos. Kids are running around, the gun is popping, it is not as clear cut as it seems,” Mason said.

Mason said he comes from a family of educators and he “can’t imagine them wanting to be armed.”

“I personally do not think it is the answer. I would hate to see an incident where an educator is expected to use lethal force against, in all likelihood, a minor, a student even,” Marshall said. “None of the teachers I know personally have expressed a desire to be armed.”

There are too many uncertainties, Marshall said.

Mason said armed staff members in the school could be confused for a gunman by police officers coming to assist in an emergency.

“Or what if a kid overpowers a teacher and takes the weapon? Police officers are trained on how to maintain control of our weapons. It is not fair to teachers to be put in that position,” Mason said.

Training

One local company said it wants to help teachers who are interested in getting comfortable with a gun by offering free concealed carry license classes.

“We are not saying teachers should do this, but we understand teachers do a lot of work outside of their classrooms, and spend a lot of their own money on supplies, so if there are educators out there who are interested in arming themselves, we wanted to take the chance to give back to them and offer the class free of charge,” said Clayton Manning, with Integrated Defense Group in Kinsman.

Mark Manning, owner of the company, said the class is a good start for educators interested in learning to use a weapon, but said anyone who arms themselves, especially in a school, needs to continue training.

“We cover the basics for getting a permit, and the laws surrounding the CCW, and that takes up a big chunk of the day. We teach them how to use a gun and use it safely, plus the basics of proper handling, storing and shooting. But, anyone who plans to carry needs to move and get extra training, at least a couple of hours a month in a defensive training class,” Mark Manning said.

Educators who carry must carefully plan how to carry or store the weapon, and the class will delve into that, Mark Manning said.

“How to carry is important, and it is dependent on whether you are a man or a woman, and what you are wearing that day. You don’t want it out in the open, where students can get ahold of it. I think it should be on the body, where they have control over it at all times. But a biometric safe in a locked drawer could be safe,” Mark Manning said.

rfox@tribtoday.com

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