During a visit Wednesday to Marjory Stoneman Douglas High, Education Secretary Betsy DeVos highlighted a program to train and arm school personnel as “a model,” saying it is something communities should consider adopting following one of the nation’s deadliest school shootings.
The secretary’s visit with students, teachers and administrators at the Parkland, Fla., school took place exactly three weeks after police say a former student opened fire with an AR-15, killing 14 students and three staff members, an event that sparked a fierce debate over how to prevent the next school shooting.
“We are committed to furthering and advancing those things that are going to help ensure that students like these and all those across the country are going to have the opportunity to learn in a safe environment,” DeVos said at a news conference following the brief visit, during which she met with students who have struggled since the shooting.
President Trump has suggested training and arming teachers to engage with school shooters, and giving bonuses to encourage school personnel to sign up for the role. That idea faces opposition from teachers unions, many school superintendents and even members of the president’s party. Opponents say it is impractical and dangerous to call on teachers or school personnel to engage a shooter in a crowded hallway, especially when that shooter could be a student.
But DeVos said it is something school districts should think about and cited Polk County in Florida, where the sheriff’s office has trained personnel at a local college to respond to shooters, as a model that could work.
In Polk County, the sheriff’s office runs a program to train teachers and professors to defend against school shooters. A local college has adopted the program, according to the Orlando Sentinel.
“I think that’s a model that can be adopted and should be an option for schools, for states, for communities,” DeVos said. “But it’s not one that needs to be required or mandated for every community.”
But the public schools in that Florida county appear to be in no rush to start arming teachers. Polk County Public Schools Superintendent Jacqueline Byrd opposes the initiative, saying in a video address that the schools need more police officers and mental health resources.
“I want to be very clear on where I stand: This is absolutely not the answer. . . . I will not support or recommend any measure that seeks to arm our teachers or staff,” Byrd said in the video message posted to the district’s Facebook page. “We do not need armed teachers. We need resource officers, mental health counselors and more secure campuses.”
While Trump’s proposal is unlikely to get federal support, some states and school systems are starting their own programs to arm schoolteachers and other school personnel. After the shooting, the Florida legislature passed a bill to create a similar program statewide despite opposition from Florida Gov. Rick Scott (R) and Broward County Schools Superintendent Robert Runcie, whose district includes Stoneman Douglas.
Ten states have laws that allow school boards or school administrators to give permission to school personnel to carry guns on school property, according to the Education Commission of the States.