Armed Teachers? Area educators react to idea

Would any local school districts be open to the idea of arming teachers in the classroom?

RIDGEFIELD — “I think we’re at a crisis point,” says Nathan McCann, superintendent of Ridgefield schools, “I think school safety and security is the number one obligation we have to our students and our staff.”

The comments come in the wake of yet another horrific school shooting. This time 17 dead at a high school in Parkland, Florida. The survivors have led a spirited campaign for gun control and reform. At a meeting with some of them at the White House following the shooting, President Donald Trump said he would like to see certain teachers be allowed to have a concealed weapon while in class.

Ridgefield High School. Photo by Chris Brown
Ridgefield High School. Photo by Chris Brown

“This would only be obviously for people that are very adept at handling a gun,” the president said, “they’d go for special training, and they would be there, and you would no longer have Gun Free Zones.

“To a maniac,” the president continued, “because they’re all cowards — a Gun Free Zone is, ‘let’s go in, and let’s attack.’”

Predictably, the comments blew up online. It didn’t help that a few days after the president’s remarks, a teacher with a gun in Dalton, Georgia locked himself in a classroom and fired a shot through a window. It doesn’t appear he intended to hurt any students, but the incident was latched onto by many as an example of why arming teachers is a bad idea.

“I have great respect and reverence for police officers,” says McCann. “They go through many, many hours of weapons training. And we know that they sometimes make an error in judgement with their weapons. I think even having very willingly trained teachers — there’s never going to be enough time or resource put to training and making sure that their skills are as sharp as they necessarily need to be in that moment that calls for a very calm and collected presence to take care of the threat. And I worry about all the opportunity where something other than the intended outcome ends up being the result.”

One outcome many, including McCann, worry about is that a teacher’s gun could end up in the wrong hands, or that innocent students could die in the crossfire.

“And that could be a very well-intentioned, very brave teacher doing brave work that still makes a mistake,” says McCann, “and I’m curious what the public outcry and reaction will be to that.”

Washougal Schools superintendent Mike Stromm said in a statement that it’s currently against state law for anyone other than law enforcement to carry a weapon on a school campus. Should the legislature act to change that, Stromm says he would welcome a serious discussion on the issue.

Hough Elementary School in Vancouver. Photo by Chris Brown
Hough Elementary School in Vancouver. Photo by Chris Brown

As with many things when it comes to gun laws, reaction to the Parkland shooting has varied widely around the country. In Florida, a new program aims to give 10 teachers per school 132 hours of weapons training, and a $500 bonus for going through the program. In Texas, 172 districts already allow teachers to carry on campus.

While McCann says he’s certainly not against the 2nd Amendment, or even fully opposed to allowing teachers to be armed, he does feel as though asking them to protect students and themselves is a step no other organization has made.

“I’ll use a hospital as an example,” McCann says. “Doctors and nurses and technicians are not the security apparatus of the building, but rather trained, professional security that’s focused on that one job. And I would go so far as to say even a government installation, military installations and so forth — and those are all highly trained people — but there’s still a specific element of that population that’s tasked with the safety and security of the base, fort, or building.”

In a statement posted online, Vancouver Schools Superintendent Steven Webb says they have trained security officers at each school. The Clark County Sheriff’s Office and Vancouver Police also have school resource officers in each high school.

We meet regularly with local law enforcement agencies to review and improve our safety protocols,” the statement reads, “Elementary and middle schools have secure electronic entry systems. At high schools, district resource officers, or DROs, help monitor activities and foot traffic inside schools and around school campuses.”

Webb says the Vancouver School District also holds 18 safety drills each year, and works with teachers and students to help with issues of bullying, and make sure potential threats are reported and taken seriously. Webb declined to comment specifically on whether they would be open to the idea of arming students. Evergreen Schools also declined comment for this story. Other districts within the county also either declined to respond, or did not provide statements in time for publication.

On Thursday, Ridgefield schools held a planning meeting for a district-wide safety event scheduled for March 14. McCann says the goal of that meeting will be to bring together teachers, parents, students, and local law enforcement to talk about the best ways to keep kids safe.

“This will encompass everything,” says McCann, “from our standard response protocol, and how we prepare for the potential of an active threat situation such as a shooter, or another violent person on campus, to upgrades that are hardening our schools from our 2017 bond, to stuff that we want to see included on the 2019 bond.”

McCann says they also are focusing on ways to engage students who might feel alienated or like an outcast at school, such as encouraging students to interact with kids sitting alone at lunch time.

At this point McCann says none of his teachers have approached him to say they’d like to be armed on campus. Parents who’ve spoken to him about it have only said they would like to see more armed guards on campus.

“I think guns in the hands of the right people are always a much better solution than guns in the hands of the wrong people,” he adds. “And, if the wrong people have guns, I’d prefer that the right people have guns too. I’m not opposed to guns. I believe that there is a tremendous amount of exposure that allows someone to treat a school that’s going to be a Guns Free Zone as, to some degree unfortunately, a shooting gallery if there’s not someone in there.”

But, McCann adds, that doesn’t necessarily mean allowing teachers, even highly trained ones, to bring their own guns to class.

“Let’s make sure that we have some trained security doing the duty that needs to be done, which is to keep kids safe,” says McCann. “We say they’re our future and the most important thing, but then we aren’t sure that we want to invest the money in that.”

Battle Ground High School. Photo by Chris Brown
Battle Ground High School. Photo by Chris Brown

Should parents demand that teachers be armed, and teachers express a desire to do that, McCann says he’s open to the discussion. As mentioned though, the Legislature would need to act to make that happen. Meanwhile McCann says further investment is also needed in mental health treatment, and we all need to be more vigilant when it comes to investigating potential threats. The Parkland shooter was no stranger to local police or the FBI, and yet was still allowed to legally purchase most of the weapons used in the shooting.

While it appears President Trump is open to some level of gun reform, many large gun retailers appear to be unwilling to sit around and wait to see if Congress will act. Dick’s Sporting Goods recently announced they will no longer sell AR-style semi-automatic weapons. Wal-Mart, Krogers (owners of Fred Meyer), and Dick’s all have also said they will no longer sell guns to people under the age of 21.

Wherever you fall on the issue, McCann says it’s a debate worth having.

“I’m willing to sit at the table with anyone who wants to talk about enhanced safety and security at schools,” he says. “There’s nothing that I would say is an absolute ‘no.’ I do think it’s a little disingenuous when people say we want to make our schools safer, but it’s the only place that I can think of where the core employee group is asked to also serve as its own security.”

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About The Author

Chris Brown comes to Clark County Today with 15 years of local news experience as a reporter, editor, and anchor at KXL News Radio and KOIN-6 TV in Portland. In 2016, he won an Oregon Association of Broadcaster's award for Best Investigative Reporting for a series on America's Violent Youth. He has also been awarded by the Associated Press for Best Breaking News coverage as editor of Portland's Morning News following the 2015 school shooting at Umpqua Community College in Roseburg, Oregon. The second oldest of eight home-schooled children, Brown graduated from high school two years early. After several odd jobs, he earned an internship at KXL Radio, eventually working his way into a full-time job. Brown has lived in Clark County his entire life, and is very excited at the opportunity to now focus full-time on the significant stories happening in his own back yard, rather than across “the river.’’ After a few years in Vancouver, he recently moved back to Battle Ground with his wife and two young daughters. When he's not working to report what's happening in Clark County, Brown enjoys spending time with his family, playing music, taking pictures, or working in the yard. He also actually does enjoy long walks on the beach, and sunsets.

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