Should teachers have guns as part of school safety?
By JOYANNA LOVE
Senior Staff Writer
The Alabama House of Representatives has proposed a bill (HB 435) that would allow certain trained school employees to carry a firearm at school.
Chilton County Schools have only recently had police officers providing security for schools across the district on a daily basis.
School administrators have mixed feelings about allowing teachers to have a gun on campus.
Maplesville High School Principal Steven Hunter said he is in favor of teachers being armed.
“As a principal, I am 100 percent for having armed teachers,” Hunter said. “I think that a gun-free zone is an invitation, because the people that are going to follow the law are the people that are going to follow the law any way. A criminal is going to look at that as a golden opportunity.”
He said qualification and class requirements would need to be in place for teachers to carry a gun on school property.
“If it were passed how I would want it to look is, of course, you would have to have your conceal carry permit,” Hunter said. “I would like to see that whoever was carrying would have to go through a class and qualify with the weapon that they carry.”
The Maplesville principal said those who were interested would be willing to attend the necessary training.
Hunter said it would also be important not to advertise who was armed.
Jemison High School Principal Diane Calloway said she was in favor of having select teachers armed if the principal was the one to give final approval after approval by the BOE.
The current version of House Bill 435, which was revised on March 15 in the Public Safety and Homeland Security Committee, would require armed employees to be recommended by their school principal, local superintendent, local police chief or sheriff and the board of education. Training would also be required.
Isabella High School Principal Ricky Porter has concerns about teachers having guns at school
“My preference would be for teachers not to have guns,” Porter said. “My preference would be for there to be a resource officer of some sort on campus. You just open a whole other can of worms when you start arming teachers.”
Some of his specific concerns were training, storage of the gun and keeping it from falling into others’ hands.
“I have certainly had teachers in the past that I would not want to have a gun,” Porter said. “Now, again if we don’t have a resource officer on campus, then I would actually prefer that the administrator be armed instead of a teacher. I trust myself more with a gun than I do anyone else.”
Isabella does have an officer in the school each day. Porter said it is “comforting to know there is someone with a firearm on campus.”
“I don’t think we need guns in classrooms. If we have police personnel here at school, there is no reason for a teacher to have a gun,” Rex Littleton, a teacher at Isabella High School, said. “But, at the same time, if there are no police personnel available, only teachers that are trained by a local law enforcement agency should be (allowed to have a gun on campus).”
He said only teachers that qualified should be allowed to carry a gun at school, and not every teacher.
“Whatever an officer needs to pass is what you need to pass,” Littleton said.
Littleton said a streamlined version could be developed for teachers so the same teaching and testing were held in a shorter amount of time.
Arming teaches and police presence
Even now that a police officer is at Maplesville High School every day, Hunter said he would be in favor of having some teachers with guns, because one person can only do so much.
“But having an officer in the school is something that I like,” Hunter said. “It does a lot on a lot of levels. It lets the community know that there is police protection at the school, but it also … gives the kids an opportunity to meet and get to know them a little bit.”
He said this helps build a comfort with and respect for law enforcement.
“To have an officer that has a relationship with students is valuable,” Hunter said, emphasizing that it gives students one more person they can go to if there is something going on.
He said parents also like it.
The possibility of arming teachers was discussed during a recent Chilton County Board of Education work session on school safety.
“That would be the most effective (plan),” Maplesville Police Chief Todd Ingram said. “Sure you have an officer in the school, but if you have weapons throughout the school with a few people who want to go through the training that is going to be your first line of defense.”
Ingram said having armed school personnel could save lives in an active shooter situation.
“You have some teachers that have military experience, why not let them,” Chilton County Board of Education member Jim Shannon said. “And don’t let anyone know who they are, not even the teachers.”
Hunter said signs declaring that there are no guns on campus should be removed.
Chilton County Schools Superintendent Tommy Glasscock suspects that the legislature will make it up to local school boards whether or not to allow personnel to be trained and armed.
Glasscock said it would need to be “highly selective,” but there were definitely employees in the school system that would be a good choice.
“Even if he’s armed, I don’t want him leaving his classroom vulnerable and going down the hall (to address an issue),” Board of Education member Joe Mims said.
Other safety concerns
Infrastructure safety improvements have been made to Chiton County Schools in the past few years. Maplesville High School is implementing a lock on the front door that will require people to talk to someone in the office before they are let into the school. Calloway said such a system is already in use at JHS. Clanton Elementary uses a system that requires someone to sign in with the front desk before the door to the hallway is unlocked.
Multiple buildings and doors being propped open are safety concerns the school system is still looking to address on some campuses.
Porter said even though the campus is small there are four separate buildings, which means doors are constantly being opened and some cannot be kept locked.
“I think it would be good if we had some way of connecting some of the buildings, even with fencing with doors where you buzz in and buzz out,” Porter said.
He said there has been discussion of such measures but “I am not aware of any plan” for such improvements.
Littleton and Porter said greater security measures need to be taken on school buses for the possibility of someone getting on the bus who should not be. Porter said a bus driver was shot and killed a few years ago in Troy after not letting a man take students off the bus.