Guns in schools?

Local educators and law enforcement share thoughts about arming school staff

This August 2016 photo shows a sign outside a school in Claude, Texas, which Claude ISD posts outside their schools. In the aftermath of yet another mass school shooting, President Donald Trump says that if one of the victims, a football coach, had been armed “he would have shot and that would have been the end of it.” Revisiting an idea he raised in his campaign, Trump’s comments in favor of allowing teachers to be armed come as lawmakers in several states are wrestling with the idea, including in Florida, where the 17 most recent school shooting victims are being mourned.(Creede Newton/Amarillo Globe-News via AP)

Americans and Iowans are still reacting after the Feb. 14 school shooting in Parkland, Fla. that took 17 lives, and local officials have added their thoughts to the national discussion on arming school staff to protect students.

“We have to exhaust the other avenues of creating a safe environment for kids before we bring in a topic like arming teachers,” said East Marshall Schools Superintendent Tony Ryan. “Why do we hire teachers? We hire teachers to educate our kids, and that’s what their main focus needs to be on.”

Marshalltown Education Association (MEA) President and Anson Elementary kindergarten teacher Kate Troskey said there are local teachers for and against allowing guns to be carried in school.

“I’ve talked to teachers who … feel comfortable with that, and they have a license to carry,” she said. “But I’ve also talked to some teachers who are very uncomfortable with guns in general, and so bringing that into where they work everyday is obviously not a good environment for them.”

Troskey said any effort to increase safety in schools should be multi-pronged.

“There are numerous things that we could put in place,” she said.

Among the measures Troskey mentioned was ALICE active shooter response training.

“We’re a proponent of ALICE and ‘Run, Hide, Fight’ messaging in training,” said Marshalltown Police Chief Mike Tupper of the program, which stands for “Alert, Lockdown, Inform, Counter, Evacuate.”

He said the training is free for those interested, be they from schools, churches, businesses and more.

“I think that type of training is the first step, and probably will do more good to prepare people than introducing more firearms into our school environments,” Tupper said. “I’m definitely not anti-gun, but what I do know after 25 years working in law enforcement is that carrying a firearm is a very serious responsibility requiring a lot of training and commitment, and it’s not for everybody.”

He added that introducing firearms into any environment means “opening yourself up for accidents and other problems that could occur.” Ultimately, Tupper said the community and school districts should make the decision on whether to allow staff to carry firearms.

Ryan also said gun-related accidents would be a concern if firearms were introduced into a busy school environment.

“In every situation, there very well could be mishaps,” he said. “When you have a firearm within the school facilities and you have a mishap happen, that could be a life-or-death situation.”

Ryan said allowing staff to carry firearms on school grounds would be a major change from the current status quo.

“At the end of the day, this is such a shift in thinking that I would need the research and I would need the data to say it’s the right thing to do,” he said.

Troskey said efforts to address mental health and social-emotional issues in children would be another way to help prevent school shootings.

“Better systems to provide students with what they need is another thing, even some mental health or social-emotional training for teachers,” she said, adding the district’s mental health services have experienced recent cuts.

Troskey also said there are many logistical issues with introducing firearms into schools.

“There’s a lot of logistical things to think about with who are going to be the ones carrying, and how comfortable the other teachers are.” she said. “The logistics of training for it, and where (a gun) is going to be kept, and insurance, the liability of having that on our premises.”

The national conversation on teachers being allowed to carry firearms at school was elevated when Donald Trump suggested that arming some teachers, particularly those with prior firearms training and experience, could be deterrents to potential school shooters.

Troskey said students safety should always be a major topic in education.

“It shouldn’t take tragedies, like in Florida, for us to talk about things like safety in our schools,” she said.

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Contact Adam Sodders at (641) 753-6611 or asodders@timesrepublican.com