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Siouxland teachers weigh in proposals to arm school employees with guns

September 9, 2018

SIOUX CITY -- With another school year underway in Siouxland, there’s a topic for debate not just in social problems classes, but in the minds of teachers.

Amid a rash of mass shootings at U.S. schools, officials are debating whether teachers or other schools personnel should be armed with guns to help protect students. In the wake of a deadly shooting at a high school in Parkland, Florida, President Trump broached the idea as a way to bolster school safety.

Opponents, including teacher unions and gun-control activists, have fought the proposal, saying there’s little evidence to suggest putting guns in classrooms would reduce deaths, and could result in teachers accidentally shooting students or law enforcement arguments.

Gun-control activists, including some Parkland students who traveled to Sioux City in June, argue a more effective approach would be to pass a series of measures that include bans on so-called assault-style refiles and tighter background check on the purchase of weapons.

In Florida, Gov. Rick Scott signed a package of school safety-related measures, including one in which school employees could be trained to use firearms.

As he runs for re-election, Nebraska Gov. Pete Ricketts said he is open to “have conversations about” arming the state’s teachers.

Allowing employees to have guns has been roundly debated. Some say teachers, who are not law enforcement professionals, are too busy with educational duties to take additional responsibilities of security. Others say that with training, teachers could ably handle guns and would be able to defend students and others, if an armed intruder came to shoot up a school.

The Journal asked some teachers across Siouxland to weigh in on the subject. The Journal sought teacher sources through a gun business to get a wide variety of input.

More than a dozen instructors declined, with some pointing to the hot-button nature of the subject and that administrators would not like teachers airing their views.

One replied, “I cannot attach my name or my school to this. It is a no-win situation. People are so polarized that whatever I say will be praised by some and could have other parents saying they don’t want their child anywhere near me.”

However, teachers from a variety of instructional fields and class levels also took the opportunity share their personal opinions on the topic. Here are some of their responses via email.

Dane Zarbano, Sergeant Bluff-Luton: Zarbano said he has a permit to carry a gun.

“If teachers are needing to be armed on a daily basis while at school, our society is in really big danger. I would rather see other precautions rather than teachers being armed unless they are well-trained and informed. A simple permit to carry class is not enough. There would have to be funding for gun training as well. I don’t see that happening.”

Julie Hoss, elementary reading, South Sioux City School District:

“The day I am told to come to school armed with a gun is the day I need to seek other career opportunities. Arming teachers is the worst idea and I can’t believe this is a reality in some states. I don’t believe anyone really knows how they would react upon seeing a school shooting, even with ample training.”

Hoss said if guns in schools were placed in a safe spot, it might take too long to get them, the teacher could shoot the wrong person and a disgruntled employee could gain access to a gun within the school.

Michelle Paulsen, elementary teacher, Woodbury Central School District, in Moville, Iowa:

“This is a topic that weighs heavily on the minds of many. Personally my thoughts are that teachers should not be armed. Firearms should not be allowed in the school or classroom, where they would be accessible to students. I am in favor, however of having armed security guards, that would patrol the school grounds and the main entrances to the school to secure the premises.”

Carrie Rice, English, Lawton-Bronson (Iowa) High School: Rice said the proposal by Education Department Secretary Betsy DeVos to use federal funds to train and arm teachers is misguided and that a better use would be money to hire more school personnel to identify at-risk students.

“Frankly, I have enough to do in a day without worrying where I put my firearm. Adding this responsibility to teachers is putting us in a very tenuous and dangerous position, as accidents will happen. And while you could train us to potentially take the life of a school shooter, you could never train us to intentionally take the life of a shooter who is someone we have nurtured and taught in our classrooms or an innocent student caught in the crossfire.”

Patty Wheeler, Ridge View High School, in Holstein:

“Arming teachers is sending the message to our students that their school is not a safe place, therefore, we have to arm the teachers. We are there to teach students not only about different subjects but respect and tolerance for others.

“I grew up around guns, took the gun safety course as a teenager, have been hunting and my father was in WWII. I was taught a deep appreciation for guns and the people that should carry them; the police and the military. Sadly, it is too easy for young people to obtain guns without knowing how to respect the power they hold.

“Give our students the skills to cope with bullies and deal directly with those doing the bullying. Have more avenues for students that might have a mental health issue and get them help before it gets to this point. That’s the direction we should be taking, not guns in teachers hands.”

Jim Gude, middle school teacher in Sheldon (Iowa) School District:

“A higher percentage of students come to school today with emotional baggage and these emotions are actively played out more often in our schools. In schools I have taught at, students have occasionally found a way to take teacher’s possessions. What’s to keep some kids from getting those guns which teachers have?

“In the hustle and bustle of the day in dealing with other responsibilities, will teachers constantly have the mindset of being the shooter to take out the active shooter who enters the building? I don’t know that most teachers can make the switch from nurturing teacher with many daily responsibilities to protective shooter as needs to be done in these situations.

“It may diminish some very qualified teachers from entering the profession. Over the years, teaching has lost some of its luster as a ‘go to’ profession. Adding the responsibility of being a competent shooter to defend students may further eliminate some potential great teaching candidates from our ranks.”

Kati Bak, South Sioux City elementary teacher:

“This is a very sensitive topic for everyone. It would be very difficult to weigh the many variables involved, while ensuring schools remained a safe and inviting academic environment for all students and staff.

“First, a person would need to appropriately trained and deemed to be highly skilled in the use of a firearm. Second, a teacher would need to pass vigorous evaluations, legal, physical and psychological. Third, the school and educator would need to have a designated location for the firearm, as well as extensive emergency active shooter and school safety plans practiced and in place.”

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