4th Annual School Safety Summit

Safety Experts Debate Arming School Teachers

SRU hosts summit Friday

Phillip Rau Eagle Staff Writer

May 6, 2017 Local News

SLIPPERY ROCK — Should Pennsylvania teachers be allowed to carry weapons to school? One state legislator representing Butler County believes they should be.

But some school safety advocates and educators aren’t so sure, and say a bill that would allow districts to authorize employees to have firearms on campus creates a variety of concerns for them.

For Michelle Nutter of the Center for Safe Schools, state Sen. Don White’s proposal creates logistical questions about preparedness and responsibility.

“Are teachers mentally prepared to pull the trigger if they have to, and do we have trauma services in place if they do?” Nutter asked.

Nutter’s comments came as administrators and school resource officers from Pennsylvania and Ohio gathered at Slippery Rock University Friday morning for a summit on school safety. The 4-hour event featured presentations on everything from bullying to how schools can best prepare for an armed gunman storming their buildings.

But it was White’s proposal — SB 383 — that received the most attention from the group, with some presenters and educators questioning whether it was the best way to make schools safer.

Attorney Russell Lucas, who represents school districts and municipalities on behalf of the Pittsburgh-based law firm Andrews & Price, said the idea of allowing school teachers and staff members to carry guns on campus creates a “complex calculus” that troubles him. Lucas said he worries about how armed teachers would react during a violent situation, regardless of the training mandated in White’s bill.

“Anybody who is not in that situation normally, we just don’t know how they’re going to react,” Lucas said.

The proposal also creates legal concerns, Lucas said, and could open the door for districts to be sued if armed employees don’t prevent violence.

Even among proponents of more aggressive anti-shooter training in schools, White’s bill received a wary reception.

John Vannoy, the director of Student Services at Sharpsville School District in Mercer County, spoke Friday about ALICE training — a sometimes-controversial program that incorporates fighting back physically against armed assailants.

In Vannoy’s opinion the program has been widely misunderstood and unfairly criticized by the media. He said is district has focused on evacuation and classroom security measures, and has been surprised at how seriously students have taken the training and drills.

But White’s bill might be a step too far for Vannoy, who said he shared Lucas’ concerns and also believes that arming teachers raises fundamental questions about their role in school culture.

“It seems like a total contradiction to who I am as an educator,” Vannoy said. “Schools are institutions. But do we want to make them penal institutions?”

White, who introduced a similar bill in 2014, said he believes allowing teachers to get training and have weapons will make schools safer.

“In my opinion, it’s a great deterrent. These cowards that are pulling this stuff, they don’t want to fight,” he said. “They want to go in (and) do their damage.”

He also pointed out that the bill doesn’t mandate arming teachers. It would only give school boards the authority to vote on implementing such a program.

“It just gives the local school boards the opportunity to debate it; discuss it; and see if it works for them,” White said. “And I’m confident that there might be some rural schools that will try to implement it.”

White acknowledges, however, that the bill has received a “mixed response” from legislators in Harrisburg. The legislation advanced out of the Senate Education Committee on April 19 with a 9-3 vote, but Senate Majority Leader Jake Corman, R-Centre, said last month that there are no plans for a full vote on White’s legislation. White introduced a similar bill in 2014.

This article is reprinted with permission of the Butler Eagle

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