.

Guns in Schools: Local Educators Speak Out

Representatives of three state education agencies issued a rebuttal to Gov. McDonnell's comments about possibly allowing teachers and other school staff to carry weapons.

Virginia educators said they are concerned about the governor’s interest in allowing teachers and staff members to carry guns into schools, noting violence prevention isn’t an issue of more guns, but more funding.

Officials with three education associations—the Virginia Association of Secondary School Principals (VASSP), the Virginia Association of Elementary School Principals (VAESP) and the Virginia Association of School Superintendents (VASS)—released a statement Friday on the issue.

It came shortly after the National Rifle Association (NRA) called for "armed security" around schools but was in response to statements earlier this week by Virginia Gov. Bob McDonnell.

The education organizations said they appreciate Gov. McDonnell’s efforts to begin talks about increased safety in schools in light of the mass shootings at Sandy Hook Elementary School, but they think other options should be explored. 

The Republican governor discussed Virginia schools during a Tuesday interview on WTOP.

When asked about the idea of allowing adults, supervisors, principals and teachers to be armed inside schools in Virginia, the governor said the idea should at least be discussed.

"If people were armed, not just a police officer but other officials who were trained and chose to have a weapon, certainly there would have been an opportunity to stop aggressors from coming into a school,” McDonnell said.

Fairfax County School Board members expressed their opinions about the issue Thursday during their last regular meeting of the year. Elizabeth Schultz (Springfield) said she doesn't think teachers should be armed, and many of her colleagues agreed.

Ryan McElveen (at large) said the board should take leadership when it comes to the issue of safety in the schools and whether it's a good idea to arm educators.

"Sure we could install bulletproof glass or go back to the days with windows with grills. But we need to make those small steps. The Board needs to take leadership," he said. "I think the last thing we need in Fairfax County is 20,000 more guns to arm our employees with."

Since the Dec. 14 shootings in Newtown, the board has received multiple phone calls from concerned parents. Tamara Derenak Kaufax (Lee) addressed parents' concerns by reassuring them that the schools are providing the best safety measures for students.

"I know some of you are looking to us as your leaders and we are doing everything and providing the best safety measures that are known to us," she said. "What I want you all to know is that we are here for you. We are listening to you. We understand your fears and we are here to keep you as safe as possible."

Ilryong Moon, chairman at large, said faculty and staff care about each child in the Fairfax County school system. Superintendent Jack Dale told parents who attended the meeting FCPS employees patrol the areas around the schools in the county to reassure safety for all students.

"We’re also continually trying to refine and improve. Our staff is trained to be vigilant, and all of our schools are locked so no one can gain access without approval," Dale said.

School safety is a deep-rooted issue and research indicates a “thoughtful” approach to safety in schools, one that goes beyond school campuses and into the communities, is needed in order to protect children, officials with the three associations said.

“ … We are concerned, however, with the governor’s interest in permitting staff to carry firearms as a possible deterrent to violence in schools,” officials wrote in the joint statement issued Friday. “We believe the problem is more complex and the conversation needs to encompass other and more diverse solutions …”

Additionally, educational practices and programs that support the social, behavioral and emotional needs of the students is needed, state educators said.

“We cannot and should not turn our schools into fortresses,” said Ben Kiser, VASS president and superintendent of Gloucester County Schools. 

“Effective prevention cannot wait until there is a gunman in a school parking lot; we need resources such as School Resource Officers, assistant principals, mental health supports and threat assessment teams in every school and community so that people can seek assistance when they recognize that someone is troubled and requires help.”

The roles of school resource officers and assistant principals should be well defined, followed by an increase in funding for both positions—funding that was decreased by the state general assembly, officials said.

The Virginia Standards of Quality should be amended and require there be one principal in each school building, educators wrote in the release. It should also require an assistant principal be in place for schools with 400 or more students, which is different from the current requirement of 600 students, they said.

Funding for support staff and non-classroom personnel has also been cut by lawmakers, educators said, but employees in these positions are vital because they could serve as the “eyes and ears” of the schools.

"Our children deserve better," former VASSP president Carolyn Bernard said. “With continuous cuts, existing staff are being forced to try to accomplish much more with less. It is becoming difficult to focus on developing relationships and encouraging engagement with students."

Educators suggest school construction funds could potentially be used to encourage local school divisions to address security. Many older buildings and facilities were constructed prior to the current guidelines and regulations, educators said in the joint statement.

More on this issue: 

NRA Calls for 'Armed Security' Around Schools

Del. Marshall: Some School Staff should Carry Guns

Sen. Warner: Newtown a 'Game Changer' on Guns

Speak Out: Should Teachers Be Armed?

Kingstowne Patch Editor Raytevia Evans contributed to this article.

Stella McEnearny December 23, 2012 at 05:11 PM
More weaponry means the potential for more violence, pure and simple... The Gov. should be ashamed of himself!
DGeorge December 23, 2012 at 05:30 PM
It is not "pure and simple". Do you think that protecting our children (grandchildren) is a bad idea? We could remove a miniscule amount of money from that we are pouring into the ME and provide armed protection for our kids. We are a different society from the one I grew up in. Apparently parents today could care less what their children are doing. My dau and son-in-law would no more let my granddaughters play violent video games than they would let them play in a busy street. It isn't guns that are the problem, the problem is a society that permits everything and anything. Its parents that have no idea whats on their childs computer. Murder is no biggy, they murder everyday, its FUN. Lets get some protection into our schools.
Coperon December 23, 2012 at 10:03 PM
Come on folks. It's not only elementary schools (Sandy Hook), high schools (Columbine), universities (Virginia Tech), its also parking lots (Tucson Safeway, Congresswomen Gabby Giffords). Make 'em use knives before we're talking next about rocket propelled grenade control.
Michael December 23, 2012 at 11:43 PM
Columbine had an armed guard. Ft. Hood had thousands of "good guys with guns." If this were really the whole answer, those situations would have come out much differently. In any case, unless each staff member keeps their firearm loaded and cocked at all times, they could be easily overwhelmed by someone with a semiautomatic rifle before they even had time to retrieve their weapon. Speaking of "a society that permits everything and anything," what about the society that allows gangsters, drug runners, and mentally ill people to buy unlimited weapons with no background check at gun shows? This knee-jerk reaction to just arm more people would lead to a false sense of security and ultimately cause less, rather than more, vigilance and care. Ultimately we need a combination of better security, better vigilance, better mental health care, AND fewer guns.
John Smith December 24, 2012 at 04:49 AM
The idea of arming school teachers and staff sounds like it has not been at all carefully thought out. Just in case our teachers don't have enough on their plates already, we'll now expect them to spend some additional significant part of their time at the firing range achieving and maintaining proficiency in the safe, accurate use of their weapons? And then what about librarians? Are library patrons more expendable than school children? The list could go on and on. While we're thinking about all of these issues, let's not fail to think about what we might do to help create a world in which people don't want to kill other people. Unattainable? Perhaps, but does that mean it can't be kept front and center as a goal toward which we can all strive? Landing people on the moon wouldn't have happened either had there not been a clear, explicitly stated goal toward which smaller, incremental steps could be taken. It's certainly worth some thought and effort.
DGeorge December 24, 2012 at 07:49 PM
Our children are in danger now! What do you intend to do to protect them? Talk philosophy? They are going back to school in January. Do you think the Air Marshal program is good? Do you think our children deserve the same kind of protection we afford our travelers? How about our money, we protect that with guns. Come on, what are you suggesting we do. Michael you show your ignorance of firearms you probably shouldn't talk about them.
Robert Jeffery December 27, 2012 at 01:25 PM
I don't understand the reluctance of these organizations to allow members of the school staff who volunteer to be trained to handle a firearm in such a situation as Sandy Hook? I am not talking about a rapid reaction force of SWAT style trained teachers, just teachers who are willing to extend the "loco parentis" status we grant them in the education of our children to the protection of those children with force, even deadly force if necessary.
Don Joy January 07, 2013 at 03:12 PM
Michael, the soldiers at Ft. Hood were not armed. Civilian police had to be called, and it was a civilian police officer who shot Hasan and stopped the rampage. The troops were sitting ducks. There has been debate over details all the way down to the eyeglasses prescription of the armed guard at Columbine, and his health & physical condition/response, but he did engage the shooters with his weapon and at least marginally hinder their rampage--your argument is that schoolchildren should be sitting ducks for whoever doesn't want to obey the law, while you pass more laws.
Don Joy January 07, 2013 at 03:18 PM
Hmmm, by your logic, armed guards protecting politicians, government buildings, banks, sporting events, and so forth are all a bad idea, right?

Boards

More »
Got a question? Something on your mind? Talk to your community, directly.
Note Article
Just a short thought to get the word out quickly about anything in your neighborhood.
Share something with your neighbors.What's on your mind?What's on your mind?Make an announcement, speak your mind, or sell somethingPost something