Arming teachers is hard, even in gun-loving Texas

But Texas, a state with a storied gun culture, has allowed teachers to sign up as campus marshals since 2013 through a program signed into law following the Sandy Hook Elementary shooting in Newtown, Conn. The initiative has seen fewer than 300 educators sign up in 62 school districts, according to the Texas Commission on Law Enforcement, even after some restrictions around the program were eased following a deadly 2018 mass shooting at a Houston high school.

A survey of more than 1,000 state school districts by the Texas School Safety Center, meanwhile, concluded that only 280 systems participated in an older, separate, and much less regulated state “guardian” program designed to deploy armed teachers as last-ditch guards against active archers.

There are many risks associated with the training.

“One of the most candid conversations we have with school districts is, when an officer shows up and doesn’t know if you’re the good guy or the bad guy, he won’t ask questions,” Kathy Martinez-Prather, the state director of the school safety center, said in an interview.

“The purpose of these individuals is not to face the threat. It’s kind of a last resort,” she says. “If you can’t run and get away, and you can’t hide, sometimes you find yourself in a situation where you have to defend. We in no way encourage them to face the threat at any time, as a first option.”

The idea of ​​teachers carrying guns promises to harness renewed political urgency in the school safety debate, as a top Texas law enforcement officer on Friday admitted failures in a floundering police response to this week’s violence. And the issue has received significant attention in states like Florida, where the presence of law enforcement officers on school campuses has increased following the 2018 murders of Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School.

But the nation’s top education official and head of the largest teachers’ union mocked the idea, portraying it as a distraction from the role firearms play in violence in the United States.

“The solution to arming teachers, in my view, is further disrespect for a profession that is already under attack and does not feel the support of so many people,” Education Secretary Miguel Cardona told lawmakers on Capitol Hill this week. “We need to make sure we empower our teachers to be successful in teaching our children.”

More than 100 bills to arm school personnel were introduced in 34 states and territories between 2018 and 2021, according to the National Conference of State Legislatures. More than a third of that legislation was enacted in the wake of the 2018 shootings in Parkland, Florida and Santa Fe, Texas. The vast majority of all those bills fell through.

Still, in April 2020, an analysis by RAND Corporation found that 28 states allowed schools to arm teachers or staff in at least some cases or as part of a specific program. That included states without laws to expressly prohibit or permit armed school personnel, and several others — including Alabama, Colorado, Florida, Indiana, Missouri, Montana, Tennessee and Texas — with laws to permit the practice in one form or another. .

“Bringing more guns into schools makes schools more dangerous and does not protect our students and educators from gun violence,” Becky Pringle, president of the National Education Association, said in a statement. “We need less guns in schools, not more. Teachers should teach, not act as armed guards.”

She added: “Schools need more mental health professionals, not guns; teachers need more resources, not revolvers.”

In Florida, less than a month after the Parkland attack, state lawmakers passed sweeping safety and security reforms that also required schools to place at least one armed guard on campus each day.

As a result, the presence of law enforcement officers on local campuses grew to 4,381 security officers spread across 3,641 schools last fall.

Nearly two-thirds of these guards are law enforcement officers assigned to schools, while the other 1,384 officers are trained “guardians,” including teachers or other staff members. It’s not clear exactly how many of the state’s guards are teachers, though some Florida officials support the guardianship program after the Texas attack.

“People are afraid that teachers will use weapons irresponsibly or that students will be given a teacher’s gun. But none of that happened,” Ryan Petty, the father of Parkland student Alaina Petty, one of the 17 dead in Parkland, tweeted Friday. Petty is also a member of the state council of education.

But in Texas, Martinez-Prather of the State Schools Security Center said schools are most likely to rely on a mix of standard security personnel and school police officers — in addition to the occasional armed teacher.

“We see a greater increase in setting up our own districts [police force]”When you think about having real licensed, licensed peacekeeping officers on your campus, some districts feel more comfortable with professionals in those positions than their educators.”

Andrew Atterbury contributed to this report.

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