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Guns in Schools: Virginia Educators Concerned about Governor's Interest in School Staff Carrying Weapons

Representatives of three state education agencies issued a rebuttal to Gov. McDonnell's comments about possibly allowing teachers and other school staff to carry weapons.

Virginia educators said they are concerned about the governor’s interest in allowing teachers and staff members to carry guns into schools, noting violence prevention isn’t an issue of more guns, but more funding.

Officials with three education associations—the Virginia Association of Secondary School Principals (VASSP), the Virginia Association of Elementary School Principals (VAESP) and the Virginia Association of School Superintendents (VASS)—released a statement Friday.

The statement came shortly after the National Rifle Association (NRA) called for "armed security" around schools but was in response to statements earlier this week by Virginia Gov. Bob McDonnell.

The education organizations said they appreciate Gov. McDonnell’s efforts to begin talks about increased safety in schools in light of the mass shootings at Sandy Hook Elementary School, but they think other options should be explored. 

The Republican governor discussed Virginia schools during a Tuesday interview on WTOP.

When asked about the idea of allowing adults, supervisors, principals and teachers to be armed inside schools in Virginia, the governor said the idea should at least be discussed.

"If people were armed, not just a police officer but other officials who were trained and chose to have a weapon, certainly there would have been an opportunity to stop aggressors from coming into a school,” McDonnell said.

School safety is a deep-rooted issue and research indicates a “thoughtful” approach to safety in schools, one that goes beyond school campuses and into the communities, is needed in order to protect children, officials with the three associations said.

“ … We are concerned, however, with the governor’s interest in permitting staff to carry firearms as a possible deterrent to violence in schools,” officials wrote in the joint statement issued Friday. “We believe the problem is more complex and the conversation needs to encompass other and more diverse solutions …”

Additionally, educational practices and programs that support the social, behavioral and emotional needs of the students is needed, state educators said.

“We cannot and should not turn our schools into fortresses,” said Ben Kiser, VASS president and superintendent of Gloucester County Schools. 

“Effective prevention cannot wait until there is a gunman in a school parking lot; we need resources such as School Resource Officers, assistant principals, mental health supports and threat assessment teams in every school and community so that people can seek assistance when they recognize that someone is troubled and requires help.”

The roles of school resource officers and assistant principals should be well defined, followed by an increase in funding for both positions—funding that was decreased by the state general assembly, officials said.

The Virginia Standards of Quality should be amended and require there be one principal in each school building. It should also require an assistant principal be in place for schools with 400 or more students, which is different from the current requirement of 600 students, educators wrote in the release.

Funding for support staff and non-classroom personnel has also been cut by lawmakers, educators said.

Employees in these positions could served as the “eyes and ears” of the schools, according to the release.

"Our children deserve better," former VASSP president Carolyn Bernard, said. “With continuous cuts, existing staff are being forced to try to accomplish much more with less. It is becoming difficult to focus on developing relationships and encouraging engagement with students."

Educators suggest school construction funds could potentially be used to encourage local school divisions to address security. Many older buildings and facilities were constructed prior to the current guidelines and regulations, educators said in the joint statement.

More on this issue: 

NRA Calls for 'Armed Security' Around Schools

Del. Marshall: Some School Staff should Carry Guns

Sen. Warner: Newtown a 'Game Changer' on Guns

Speak Out: Should Teachers Be Armed?

Bruce Snyder December 22, 2012 at 03:41 PM
As a retired teacher with 35 years in the classroom I was curious about Gov. McDonnell's plan. If classroom teachers all had sidearms, would their teacher evaluation forms contain a section entitled "Marksmanship"? If teachers all carried Bushmaster semi-automatic assault rifles, then they would be able to defend their children better than they could with hand guns alone. Of course if assailants attacked with grenade or rocket launchers, then teachers would need to bring more firepower to the fight, perhaps machine gun nests with armour piercing rounds could be set up at the end of the halls in the school, at the main office, the clinic, in the cafeteria, and along the school property perimeter.
Mike Hawkins December 23, 2012 at 03:10 AM
Bruce, As a retired educator I would have thought you would have more sense than your post indicates you have. Why shouldn't the teachers be allowed to protect themselves and the children against harm? Perhaps you think they should remove fire extinguishers from schools and just wait for the Fire Dept during a fire. Who better to protect the children when the event is happening NOW, than someone who is physically present rather than a Police Officer who may be minutes away? I would donate a gun and pay for a teacher to receive competent instruction tomorrow if I could if it were possible to save one child's life.
Steve Jobs December 23, 2012 at 09:38 AM
Mr. Hawkins, Why the ad hominim attack? I said I was a supporter of arming the staff of every school. If it could save the life of even one child, then as you point out, school staffs must be armed. You must have misinterpreted my point, although I thought I made it very clear: we are in total agreement. My chief worry is that a Glock handgun or .45 automatic may simply not be powerful enough to protect the children. The teacher sets an example for the citizens of tomorrow. Do we want our children to have a false sense of security that a simple pistol might give one, when what is really necessary to get'er done is the trustworthy firepower that only a Bushmaster can deliver. Kids are very impressionable and might think they are sufficiently prepared to meet the world with only a hand gun, unless we older and wiser, educated adults show them the importance of being ready for anything. Let us not be one of those bleeding hearts who would only bring a knife to a gun fight. If it could save the life of only one child, then we must equip each teacher with: a bullet proof vest, semi-automatic Glock with quick release holster, Bushmaster semi-automatic rifle, and at least one rocket launcher in the main office. Any thing less displays a cavalier disregard for the lives of the children. Remember they are our future, and they will follow whatever solution we come up with. The future of our country is at stake. God bless the gun manufacturers and God bless America!
Mike Hawkins December 23, 2012 at 05:29 PM
Steve, I was addressing Bruce's comment but I did enjoy your over the top sarcasm. Finely crafted. I do agree with the point you make that a rifle would be a better choice as you suggest. Pistols are just handier! In an attack I presume you think it is appropriate to call armed police officers to the scene, why the concern for having potential victims having the opportunity to turn the tide of events as they transpire?

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