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Armed Teachers: This Is Just More Evidence Of America's Utter Failure To Protect Its Schools

By Hannah Sole | Politics | February 19, 2018 |

By Hannah Sole | Politics | February 19, 2018 |

GettyImages-918963608 (1).jpg

“No child, no teacher should ever be in danger in an American school,” said Donald Trump, after the horrifying events at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School. But they are. Every day. That’s not an exaggeration; there have been 18 active shooter incidents in American schools since the start of 2018. That’s just 7 weeks. There have been 212 since 2000. This is not normal. But it’s starting to feel that way.

Every day, parents are sending their children to school, not knowing if they will see them again. Every day, school staff go to work, not knowing if this day will be their last. American schools have become war zones. And not a goddamn thing is being done to fix this problem. The only action that we’ve seen recently has been to make the situation worse, for example rolling back the progress made during the Obama administration in terms of gun control, and cutting funding from national school-safety programs.

Being a teacher is rewarding, but it is often a frightening responsibility that extends beyond one’s role as a subject specialist. Acting in loco parentis means that we are responsible for the safety and well-being of the young people in our care. We assess risks every day, identifying hazards and developing strategies to prevent harm where possible, and limit the damage when it cannot be avoided. Being proactive is better than being reactive, but rules and procedures need to be in place for both approaches. When something goes wrong, we blame ourselves. We review what happened; we evaluate those rules and procedures, and we make changes if we need to. Because unlike political leaders who just offer thoughts and prayers, we take our responsibilities seriously.

Active shooter and lockdown drills were the result of such a process. The drill is simple: Keep the shooter away from the students. Hide. Lock the doors. If there are students in the corridor, get them inside. Turn the lights off. Stay away from the door. Wait for the all clear. If they can’t get to you, they can’t kill you. This process has saved lives. But it is a reactive solution, and it’s not without its flaws.

One of the flaws of this procedure is due to its direct conflict with another policy: classroom doors and office doors in schools have windows in them. Nothing that happens in a classroom or office in a school should be ‘behind closed doors,’ in order to prevent incidents or allegations of abuse. This protects students and staff from one hazard but provides a vulnerability in the case of an active shooter situation, one which led to the shooter in Florida being able to fire into a classroom. So sometimes, a room lockdown is not enough.

But there’s another aspect to a lockdown that quietly and terrifyingly addresses this. In a lockdown, a teacher should be nearest to the door. If a shooter breaches the room, the teacher should protect their students.

Suddenly, that phrase in loco parentis seems like an even bigger responsibility, doesn’t it? As a teacher, you are the adult in the room. When something terrible happens, you are the one who has to act. Of course teachers would have the instinct to protect those in their care. And many heroic educators have made that sacrifice for their students. Scott Biegel, a Geography teacher at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School, was killed when he ushered students into the safety of his classroom. They survived because of him. His co-worker, Assistant Football Coach Aaron Feis was killed when he jumped in front of students to shield them. Victoria Soto, a first-grade teacher at Sandy Hook, hid her students in a closet, then was shot when she threw herself in front of several children to protect them.

These are stories of heroic sacrifice. But let’s go back to that quiet, terrifying expectation again: if a room is breached, the teacher should protect their students. In all likelihood, teachers would do that. But what pains me is that this is expected of them. The reactive procedure relies on the last resort being a teacher who uses their own body to protect the young people in their care. It is what a parent would do: protect their precious children. But the parental instinct probably overpowers the instinct for self-preservation. It’s not always possible to predict how someone will react to a life or death situation, and everyone in an active shooter situation would be equally terrified. If someone is expected to die for others, does that make their act less of a heroic sacrifice and more of a duty? Were Beigel, Feis and Soto just ‘doing their job’? I doubt it was the job they signed up for. I’ve taught in an American school, and it wasn’t what I signed up for. Is it about time teachers spoke up about this? Look me in the eye and tell me it’s my job to die because you took blood money from the NRA. Say it to my face. You won’t protect these children, so I guess I have to, right?

There are a few professions where ‘taking a bullet’ might be expected. The key difference is that the other professions feature this risk more clearly, and it’s a logical (if horrendous) part of their job. The Secret Service don’t shy from this expectation. recognizerecognise that for a situation to require self-sacrifice is a signal that all the other steps have failed. And so they do not rely on reactive processes; they are proactive.

Why not the same admission of failure in the security of American schools? Because of the simple reason that the one proactive measure that would provably make the most difference in terms of risk avoidance has been ignored, time and again. Gun control might not avoid the issue completely, but it sure as hell would limit it. How do I know this? Because these incidents haven’t only happened in the US. It’s just that they keep happening in the US, because the US has a warped and ultimately self-destructive relationship with guns.

The U.S. is not the only country that’s been shaken by school shootings.

But other countries have responded in ways that seem to be keeping their children safe.

Some have responded with the kind of super tough gun control that’s likely impossible in the U.S. In Europe, they’ve instituted stringent background checks and pro-active psychological intervention — and that seems to be working too.

After a lone gunman killed 35 people in Australia in 1996, Prime Minister John Howard pushed through a ban on semi-automatic rifles, and made it illegal to carry a gun for personal protection.

“The greatest civil right you have is the right to stay alive,” said Howard.

The Australian government bought back and destroyed nearly 600,000 banned guns. And while there have still been incidents, Australia has freed itself from fatal mass shootings.

Germany, Finland, and Scotland have also responded to attacks on schools with big policy changes. And they’ve reduced school shootings to zero over the last decade, unlike the United States, where the carnage continues. (From

Before any NRA types start screeching about their 2nd Amendment rights, it’s time to look at the cost of those rights. This is a nation that would rather require teachers to become human shields than admit it has a problem with guns. This is a nation that polices the rest of the world’s weapons of mass destruction but sees nothing wrong with legally arming domestic terrorists with assault weaponry. This is a nation where politicians bought off by the NRA claim there’s nothing they can do. This is a nation where the same people who feel entitled to trample on women’s reproductive rights in the name of the sanctity of life stand by and watch their own citizens slaughtered in public schooling. There is blood on their hands. And it won’t come off with thoughts and prayers.

Perhaps that’s unfair. There is a measure that has been trialled in some states, that some are keen to propose as a panacea: arming teachers.

That’s right, now educators aren’t just being asked to die for their students, but kill for them as well. The reasons why this is being proposed are fairly obvious. First of all, the NRA will be happy; instead of restricting gun sales, this opens up a new market. Secondly, too many people buy into the myth of the Good Guy With A Gun, who always saves the day.

Since the Sandy Hook massacre in 2013, five states — Alabama, Kansas, South Dakota, Tennessee and Texas — passed laws allowing teachers to arm themselves in public schools. In many cases, teachers don’t have to tell their students, principals, or parents that they’re carrying a weapon. No state keeps records on who carries a gun at school.

Depending on how you look at the numbers, letting teachers carry guns works. There hasn’t been a school shooting in Utah since they allowed teachers to arm themselves in schools ten years ago.

“We are the first line of defense,” Kasey Hansen, a teacher in Utah, told NBC . “How long is it going to take for [the police] to get to the school? And in that time how many students are going to be affected by the gunman roaming the halls?”

Detractors, though, argue that the figure can be attributed to other security measures, like an increase in trained officers stationed in or near schools and more frequent security drills. (From Business Insider)

Real life isn’t an action movie. An active shooter situation isn’t going to be fixed by a kindergarten teacher suddenly turning into John McClane. The solution to the problem of guns in schools isn’t to put more guns in schools. That’s fairly obvious. And it’s just another reactive approach. It’s fighting fire with fire. Sky marshals are effective because they are trained specifically for this role, they are in a confined space and other passengers don’t know who they are. The same circumstances do not apply in the classroom. And teachers are not law-enforcement personnel, or military.

If teachers were all armed, would they visibly armed? Would a holster be part of the teacher dress code? If so, people are kidding themselves if they think that will make a classroom feel safe. There is nothing reassuring about a visible gun. What if a student takes it from a teacher? The chances are that any weapon you have could be used against you, especially if this is not your primary area of expertise. Surely school shootings would be more frequent if instead of having to source a weapon outside, a potential shooter could merely disarm their teacher?

Would guns be locked away from sight? Because if so, in the precious seconds that people have to decide what to do, would you rather a teacher was locking down a room and protecting their class, or rummaging for the key to a lock box? And if they were able to get to it on time, there is still that requirement to take a life.

A training programme known as ALICE has been providing guidelines for defence beyond the standard lockdown. This programme identified further issues with a traditional lockdown and instead recommends attack as the best form of defence. But not even ALICE will go so far as to recommend that teachers use deadly weapons as a counter-measure.

Lockdown drills, ALICE argues, leave students like sitting ducks, just waiting there to be killed. The best course of action includes countering, which means figuring out ways to disrupt the shooter, according to ALICE. And as a last resort, ALICE even wants students to fight back.

Aside from teachers, ALICE asks students as young as 14 years old to gang up and swarm the shooter to take him or her down with their collective force and bulk.

For students younger than high school age, the countermeasures are different.

“If a shooter comes into a kindergarten classroom, you can’t really subdue [him or her] unless the teacher goes after the shooter,” Madden said. “But in high school, you have bigger kids, and you may be able to go after the shooter and attack them.”

Younger kids might throw objects from the room at the shooter — heavy biology textbooks can pack a punch if they’re thrown at the appropriate velocity, one ALICE training instructor said. Students can also simply run around and make noise, which breaks the shooter’s concentration and make it harder for him or her to aim. (From Business Insider)

This is controversial and it’s not without its own issues.

“For me, as a principal, I’m not sure I’m comfortable with telling students to attack an intruder,” said Lyndell Davis, the principal of Truman High School. “How do you tell a parent that I picked your kid to attack?”

The International Association of Chiefs of Police also says not to “retaliate or take unnecessary chances.” (From Business Insider)

Gun control is the only proactive solution, but in order to make this happen, there needs to be a multi-layered approach. Political figures who accept money from the NRA need to decide where their loyalties lie. They will only do that if they see that people aren’t on their side. Why should a teacher sacrifice their life in the line of duty when their representatives in government won’t even make a stand against the gun lobby? How did the US get to the point where it’s more logical to instruct teachers to act as human shields than do anything at all to control the weapons that are used to slaughter them? There are plenty of proposals that could be made that would not infringe on the precious 2nd Amendment, even though that amendment is demonstrably destroying the nation.

It’s time for everybody to take action. Parents, teachers, students — it’s time to make a stand together. If your government refuses to take basic proactive measures to ensure the safety of its people, then you need to show them that that is unacceptable. Two groups are already calling for organised action:

At an anti-gun rally, Marjory Stoneman Douglas student Emma Gonzalez delivered a blistering speech:

I’m going to leave you with this sketch by Pia Guerra. It’s called ‘Hero’s Welcome’ and it depicts Coach Aaron Feis arriving in heaven, greeted by victims of other school shootings. Remember: he wasn’t just doing his job. He wasn’t a warrior, or a bodyguard. He died because he refused to let harm come to the young people in his care. I wish that those running the country had an ounce of his courage and dedication.

Hannah Sole is a Staff Contributor. You can follow her on Twitter.