In the weeks since a mass shooting at a Florida school claimed 17 lives, debate has been heated about arming teachers in the nation’s classrooms. But in the Washington region, many school leaders are speaking out against the idea.
Montgomery County’s school board passed a measure last month objecting to President Trump’s proposal to encourage states to train teachers and other school staff to carry firearms, saying it diverts educators from their core purpose and is potentially dangerous.
“It’s a terrible idea,” said Patricia O’Neill, a school board member who proposed the resolution, which was unanimously approved. “I worry about a child accidentally getting shot or accidentally getting the gun.”
She and others pointed to recent incidents involving guns inadvertently going off in schools. A school resource officer in Alexandria accidentally discharged his service weapon inside his office at a middle school in mid-March. About the same time, a California teacher trained in law enforcement accidentally fired his gun in a classroom.
Nationally, at least 10 states have laws that allow teachers or staff members to be armed inside schools — with certain permission — according to the nonprofit Education Commission of the States. While the shooting in Parkland, Fla., sparked new interest in the idea, it has not caught on widely in the Washington area.
“It’s the most ridiculous thing I have ever heard of,” said Lynne Harris, a teacher and parent who is president of Montgomery’s countywide council of PTAs and who said that while families care deeply about security, she has heard no calls for educators to get guns.
Montgomery’s resolution followed similar objections from Arlington’s school board. Top leaders in Alexandria and Howard counties also have weighed in against the practice.
“We respect our teachers and do not support arming them,” Arlington County’s school board said in a March 8 statement.
School districts across the region are reviewing safety measures following the Feb. 14 shooting at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School. For many, the urgency was underscored March 20 when a 17-year-old gunman opened fire at Maryland’s Great Mills High School, fatally shooting a 16-year-old girl and injuring a 14-year-old boy.
Some credited an armed officer on the St. Mary’s County campus, known as a school resource officer, for confronting the gunman and preventing more injuries. Many high schools across the country are staffed with a school resource officer. But they are less common at middle and elementary schools.
In Maryland’s Calvert County, Kelly McConkey, a school board member, said he believed more protection was needed in district schools when he recently proposed arming the district’s 11 “safety advocates” who work as mentors to students. He said that while he would not support guns for teachers, many of the safety advocates are retired from law enforcement.
“I’m just terrified of something like this happening in our schools,” he said, referring to the recent school shootings.
But his proposal did not get board support. Board President Tracy McGuire said last week that she does not favor arming school employees but that she is open to other options, including more school resource officers.
“People are frightened and worried for their children, and they’re frustrated because they don’t think the school board is responding,” McGuire said, noting that an extensive discussion on security is slated for the board’s April 12 meeting.
In Prince George’s County, the school board chairman, Segun Eubanks, said he believed a majority of board members would support a resolution such as Montgomery’s that takes a stance against arming teachers.
“In my mind, it’s a disaster waiting to happen,” said Amanya Paige, the student member of the Prince George’s school board.
At a town hall meeting the Montgomery County school board held in early March, a parent asked for the board’s position on arming school personnel — which led to the resolution, passed March 22.
Montgomery board member O’Neill said she would rather see money steered toward making school buildings more secure and improving mental health support.
She also said that arming teachers would violate current state laws and that even educators with guns could be overpowered.
“I strongly believe a handgun is not a good match for an assault rifle,” she said.
Still, some parents are seeking a different kind of armed protection at schools.
Deborah Berger, PTA president at Luxmanor Elementary in Rockville, said she has been urging the school system to post an armed security officer outside the 14 to 15 portable classroom trailers that students will occupy in the fall, when the school moves to a temporary site while its building is under construction. More than half of the student body will be in portable classrooms for about 18 months, and more than a fence is needed, she said.
“A fence is a deterrent, but it’s not an answer,” Berger said.
Maryland Gov. Larry Hogan (R) has come out publicly against Trump’s proposal to arm teachers, instead supporting funding for more metal detectors, panic buttons, security cameras and building upgrades, as well as grants that could be used for school resource officers, counselors and safety technology.
He said it should be up to schools to decide whether security officers should carry weapons. “I don’t think we should be handing out guns to drama teachers and biology teachers,” Hogan said in late February.
The state teachers union in Maryland also called more guns in schools a bad idea, advocating instead for more mental health professionals, smaller class sizes and more social and emotional learning for students. In Virginia, Fairfax County’s school board issued a statement against gun violence following the Parkland shooting, calling on state and federal officials to pass laws that more effectively regulate access to firearms, fund public health research on gun-related issues and support mental health services.
Arlington and Alexandria also called on state and federal officials to pass legislation that more effectively regulates access to firearms and expands mental health supports. Alexandria officials cited the need for universal background checks and bans on military-style weapons and large-capacity ammunition magazines.
In Prince William County, the school board voted last week to accelerate funding for $1 million in security upgrades and add 13 social workers, three high school counselors and a mental health specialist, a spokeswoman said.