Teachers unions support Obama’s school safety initiatives

The nation’s two main teachers unions, representing about 4.5 million educators and school personnel, support Obama’s initiatives regarding school safety.

Leaders at both the National Education Association and the American Federation of Teachers backed Obama’s proposal to give $150 million to communities to help them hire 1,000 new school resource officers as well as psychologists, counselors and social workers in the country's 100,000 public schools.

Dennis Van Roekel, president of the NEA, said that the solution is not just installing armed officers in schools but training them, alongside teachers, in bullying, school safety issues, appropriate classroom management and other related issues.

“Sadly, the presence of a school resource officer alone — without any other policy solution being employed as well — will be entirely insufficient to prevent another Newtown,”  said Van Roekel, noting that a school resource officer was posted at Columbine High School, where 12 students and a teacher were fatally shot in 1999. “And that didn't prevent or stop the tragedy there. We cannot solve this problem with simplistic solutions.”

Both unions said the decision to add school resource officers should be made at the local level by each school district after a thorough safety analysis.

“Some schools, due to their remoteness or following horrendous tragedies such as the massacre in Newtown, may decide that appropriately trained police officers are necessary,” said Randi Weingarten, president of the AFT. “Other schools may decide instead that more school guidance counselors, social workers and psychologists are needed. These decisions should be made by individual school communities following safety audits.”

Trained school resource officers, and not educators, should carry guns, Weingarten said.

“Under no circumstances should educators have the responsibility of being armed, and schools should not become armed fortresses,” she said. “The role of educators is to teach and nurture our children, not to be armed guards.”

Van Roekel cautioned that schools that hire school resource officers should not use them to criminalize student behavior that would otherwise be handled by a less severe disciplinary code. To be eligible for grants for school resource officers, schools should not have a zero-tolerance discipline policy and should be subject to auditing to make sure that race and ethnicity are not factors in disciplinary action, he said.

Lyndsey Layton has been covering national education since 2011, writing about everything from parent trigger laws to poverty’s impact on education to the shifting politics of school reform.

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