Wednesday, December 26, 2012

On School Security

Since it's the holidays I thought I'd address a light topic, guns in schools. Yesterday was my wife's family Christmas and as an elementary teacher I was asked a number of questions about school security. Had we had any lockdowns? (yes) Had any students threatened the shoot people? (yes) Did we close school because of the threat? (no) What did I think about arming teachers or having armed guards in the schools?

Let me answer that one in some length.

The NRA's proposal to have an armed guard in every school is silly. Not because it wouldn't work. In fact, it probably would work in the way everyone affected by the tragedy in Connecticut really wants it to--by offering a false sense of security. After all, there's a reason the President and other well-off individuals of power choose to enroll their kids in highly-secured schools. But it's silly because it's completely impractical. There is no way the country can afford to have an armed officer in every building.

So how about arming the teachers? I'm against this one as well. First let me say that I myself would never carry. I've never owned a gun, never felt much like shooting one, and wouldn't trust myself with the thing.  But how about those who have experience, have been trained, who know how to use it should he/she need to? Still against. The ugly truth is that I've worked with too many unstable teachers and having them armed scares the hell out of me. You might think an adult should be able to hold it together no matter how much kids push their buttons, but after eight months of dealing with the same kid and his same behaviors, and when you add on the additional stresses that come with teacher evaluations and districts looking to cut money, it's not hard to envision a teacher losing it. I don't want that teacher armed.

If you want a so-called solution, my suggestion would be to do it the same way airlines do with federal marshals. For schools, police departments would designate a different officer on different days to rotate through the buildings in their jurisdiction. They would be plainclothes officers, but carrying a concealed weapon. No one except the police departments would know which officer was at which school. Hopefully, this system would act as a deterrent. And it would add that sense of security so many parents are craving.

But the truth is it is impossible to secure schools in any significant way and still have schools that are anything like those we grew up attending. I know a principal who fielded a call from a parent who was concerned that the cafeteria in which the students ate was walled with windows that faced the parking lot. This principal tried to reassure the parent, but what he did not tell this father was that five minutes after those kids have eaten in that cafeteria they would all be outside on the playground.

And that is the hard truth. Schools are not very secure. Any person intent on harming our kids can do it, especially if they don't care if they themselves live to see another day. Even if you secure the building, are you going to building eight foot high walls around the playground? Are you going to take away outdoor recess? Are you going to arm the bus drivers too? Will these armed guards have to attend the Friday night football games and sit in the student section? Will they be at your child's holiday concert? And even if you do all of those things, will that really stop someone crazy enough to shoot up a first grade classroom?

Like after 9/11, we have decisions to make that will sacrifice our liberties for a phony feeling of security. If you need any reason to err on the side of liberty, I ask you to picture this: the TSA for schools.


Anita said...

Just as an FYI, pilots have a gun carry program, so it's not just the federal marshals who carry. Pilots can volunteer to go through a rigorous training program, background check, and mental health evaluation and then carry guns on their planes. Many, many of them do a neighbor of pilots, I've been contacted a couple times to provide background info on people wanting to carry guns.

Rena Jones said...

I'm usually not this negative, but in all honesty, I don't think any one thing will make this better. I come from a law enforcement family. My husband is retired, but still carries a gun for the job he does now. He's not a big gun lover. In fact, he'd rather carry some sort of fantasy stun gun like you'd see on Star Trek in order to stop everything so he could figure out what the hell was happening. It's just not going to happen though. I live in a very small town. If something like Sandy Hook happened here, our officers could be anywhere in the county. It might take them as much as 40 minutes to get here. Many teachers won't want to carry guns. If anything, it might discourage people from wanting to become a teacher. Sadly, I don't think there's any way to stop it, but we have to try somehow.