A campus safety conversation during a parent forum Thursday night at Union Hill School included talk of arming teachers to avoid a mass shooting such as the December tragedy at Sandy Hook Elementary in Newtown, Conn.
The concept of arming educators or having armed guards on school campuses has been part of the national discussion on campus safety in the wake of the mass shooting.
National Rifle Association Executive Vice President Wayne LaPierre called on Congress in December to take necessary steps to ensure there are armed police officers on every school campus.
“The only thing that stops a bad guy with a gun is a good guy with a gun,” LaPierre said during a Dec. 21 press conference.
Nevada County Sheriff’s Office Sgt. Tim Werner personally advocated Thursday night in favor of arming teachers with guns to the approval of some nodding parents seated inside the school’s gymnasium.
“Arming teachers is way above the pay grade, but I personally think it’s a great idea,” Werner said to an audience of about 50 attendees. “But there are education codes, which prohibit that in California.”
Parents on hand shared mixed views on such a measure following the meeting.
“I think teachers should be armed — at least those willing to be proficient,” said Jill Carey, a parent of a fourth-grade student. “You’re powerless against a gun unless you also have a gun.”
Another parent said he would be against having teachers carry weapons but considered an idea that parents could be trained to serve as campus security guards.
“If I had to choose whether teachers should carry guns, I would have to say no,” said Sam Barger, whose children are 9 and 7 years old.
“Their job is to teach and nurture children. There are other ways of protecting children … maybe training parents to be armed security guards is just one idea.”
Some school administrators and law enforcement agents said Friday that arming teachers with weapons would pose safety risks and challenges.
“Personally, I would prefer to see a trained police officer on the campus during the school hours because I think they have a lot more training, and there’s that professional aspect, and I would feel more comfortable with that,” said Nevada Union Principal Mike Blake, whose campus
does have school resource officers on duty from the sheriff’s office.
“When you get in the realm of teacher or administrator, you start blurring the world between education and safety,” Blake said. “I think teachers would feel
very uncomfortable … putting a professional who went to school to educate young people in the capacity to make the decision
to take another person’s life seems very contrary to the profession.”
The concept of arming teachers has not been a point of safety discussion among administrators in the Grass Valley School District, said Superintendent Eric Fredrickson.
“We haven’t expressed desire in our school district at all,” Fredrickson said. “It’s just something that I never would think would even come up in discussion.”
Fredrickson said he understands parents’ fears after recent school shooting incidents but feels the best course of action is to increase safety practices.
“I don’t blame parents for wanting the safest thing for their children,” he said. “That’s what it boils down to, and we have the same goals. It’s just how you get there, and I think for us right now we need to put our energy into fine-tuning our safety practices.”
The potential for an accident or a misfire is part of what makes the idea of arming educators so challenging, Nevada County Sheriff Keith Royal said Friday.
“It’s a very sensitive issue because of the number of shootings, but I think it needs further exploration before any decisions are made because it is state law, because of training, potential threat to other people and possible access to students or accidental discharges,” Royal said.
Fredrickson echoed that sentiment, saying putting guns in the hands of teachers would be a risky action to take.
“If that ever became a possibility, think of the liability and safety and training that would have to be so well thought out,” Fredrickson said.
Thursday night’s forum included a panel of Union Hill School District Superintendent Susan Barry, Principal Tisha Hamberlin, Discovery Center Director Kathy Goldie, Nevada County Sheriff’s Office School Resource Officers Micah Arbaugh and Jason Spillner, Grass Valley Police Department School Resource Officer Jim Amaral, Holly Whittaker from the Nevada County Emergency Preparedness Program and Nevada County Sheriff’s Office Sgt. Tim Werner.
Some of the safety measures discussed included installing lock mechanisms on doors that lock from the inside, improving cell-phone coverage and requiring visitors and volunteers to wear bright lanyards and sign in and out of the school office before entering and leaving the campus.
The issue of locking doors from the inside posed the problem of locking students out of classrooms, Amaral said.
“The kids go to the nearest door, so if they are locked out, they are (out of luck),” Amaral said. “Teachers are trained not to open the door.”
The possible installation of a security gate and the increase in frequency of lockdown drills was also mentioned.
“A rolling gate between (a campus) building and the gym is something we are pursuing,” Barry said. “We will be practicing lockdown as part of school culture.”
Several parents voiced appreciation for law enforcement officers attending the meeting.
“One thing Union Hill is always good at is open communication between family and entities with the school,” said parent Maryanne Deme, who has two Union Hill students, one each on the lower and upper campus. “I’m grateful and thankful that how we feel and what we think are shared. And (law enforcement agencies) being here is huge. They didn’t have to be here.”
Other parents said there is still work to do in terms of school security measures.
“I think it’s a start, but the campus isn’t secure,” Carey said. “Anybody can just walk in. They aren’t going to notice. Who’s standing in front watching? Bullets go through doors.”
Barry said the forum is just one part of the ongoing discussion in improving school safety.
“We want parents to know we are working together with local agencies and making school safety our number one priority,” Barry said.
A national survey by Widmeyer Communications between Jan. 7-10, using Google Consumer Surveys, indicated 61 percent of parents thought arming educators was a good idea, and 56 percent of respondents thought public schools would be safer if school officials were armed with guns.
The survey asked individuals on websites a single question rather than asking respondents multiple questions.
Eighty percent of respondents found it likely that another display of gun violence would take place in the next three to five years. Sixty percent of those responding to the survey supported a ban on assault rifles.
Another poll conducted in December by Public Policy Polling showed 41 percent of voters support the proposal to put armed police officers in schools across the country with 50 percent opposed. Democrats (35/57) and Independents (38/51) both oppose the push, and even among Republicans, only a narrow majority (52/39) supports it, according to www.publicpolicypolling.com.
On the broader issue of giving teachers guns, the website stated its poll showed only 27 percent of voters are supportive with 64 percent opposed.
“There’s bipartisan opposition to that concept with Republicans (35/50), Independents (31/59), and Democrats (19/77) all standing against it. Gun owners (37/52) oppose it as well,” the website reports.
Nevada Union High School’s principal said while educators, parents and law enforcement officials are all working toward the same goal of providing safe school environments, there is a fine line between promoting school safety and inciting fear among students, parents and educators on campus.
“When you start putting in metal detectors, armed guards roaming the campus, what does that do to the atmosphere of the school?” Blake asked.
“Do you feel safer or wonder if you should feel less safe because we’ve had to resort to that?”
To contact Staff Writer Jennifer Terman, email firstname.lastname@example.org or call (530) 477-4230.
““When you start putting in metal detectors, armed guards roaming the campus, what does that do to the atmosphere of the school?”
e_SEmD Mike Blake, Nevada Union High School principal