Proposals to Arm Teachers Could Not be More Wrongheaded

By JoAnn Bartoletti, Executive Director, National Association of Secondary School Principals

***Editor’s Note: The following article is one viewpoint on arming teachers in classrooms. On April 26, another viewpoint was published in the article “Armed Officers on Campus Will Keep our Kids Safe”.

Proposals to arm teachers are borne of a desperate concern for the safety of students and educators. The concern is sincere and our principals across the country are grateful lawmakers share it. Well-intentioned though they are, however, proposals to arm teachers could not be more wrongheaded.

Consider the concrete realities of school shootings. They happen quickly — anywhere from 12 seconds to six minutes in incidents since 1997. We would be asking a teacher to quickly transition to SWAT member, arrive on the scene, assess the situation, overcome the severe nervousness that naturally accompanies a deadly-force incident, and take immediate action before blood is shed. As we saw in Parkland, even a highly trained law enforcement officer fell short of that duty.

Meanwhile, schools would endure the daily risk that accompanies more guns in schools — like the teacher in Utah who accidentally shot herself in a school restroom; or the numerous recorded cases of teachers leaving their guns in public places, like you and I might misplace our keys, only to be found by children; or even the highly trained school resource officer in Michigan, who accidentally discharged his gun striking a teacher in the neck. Likely, a leading school insurance company was aware of these incidents when they refused to cover any Kansas schools that allowed teachers to carry firearms.

More broadly, however, the excessive “hardening” of schools compromises the very purpose of a school. Making the school a fortress only creates a fortress mentality for both teachers and students. Training teachers as SWAT members forces their focus to shift from a student’s limitless potential to their potential capacity for violence. As San Bernadino Superintendent Dale Marsden shared in a recent NASSP briefing on Capitol Hill, it is neither reasonable nor appropriate to lay that burden on teachers.

Sadly, there is no simple solution to this complex problem. But we know the actual solution. It has been identified time and again by the Secret Service, the FBI and numerous researchers: The most effective way to prevent acts of violence targeted at schools is by building trusting relationships with students and others in the community, and to allow a flow of information across community agencies so threats come to light and can be investigated as appropriate.

The solution is a matter of school culture. It’s a matter of community engagement. It’s a matter of public health. And yes, it’s a matter of gun access. The real solution is multifaceted and complex but as each tragic event reminds us, it is work we must undertake.

JoAnn Bartoletti is the Executive Director of the National Association of Secondary School Principals. The opinions in this article are presented in the spirit of spurring discussion and reflect those of the author and not necessarily the treasurer, his office or the State of California.