With President Trump now signaling—at least some of the time—an openness to considering serious school-safety legislation to curb gun violence, AFT leader Randi Weingarten on February 28 called on Trump to meet with teacher representatives to discuss how to ensure schools are safe havens for teaching and learning. President Weingarten wrote:
Dear President Trump:
Educators, parents and students know what is best for our schools, and we should be at the center of discussions about keeping schools safe. As a union representing educators and school staff across the country, including at Stoneman Douglas High School, our voice is critical to this debate. We also represent the educators in Newtown, Conn., and have, through these tragic events, developed a deep understanding of the supports and resources needed to help educators, children and communities following gun massacres.
While we are delighted you recently met with some union leaders to discuss America’s trade deals, we ask you show the same respect when it comes to our schools—and that you meet with teacher union leaders so we can discuss how to ensure schools are safe sanctuaries and can share our concerns about arming teachers.
Schools need to be safe sanctuaries, not armed fortresses. Your proposal to arm teachers not only would make our children’s classrooms less safe, but also is not what educators and students want.
Students and staff across America are passionate about this—like the students I spoke with at West Hempstead High School in New York, some of whom have parents and other family members who own guns. They told me that if anyone should be armed it should be security guards, not teachers. They told me their teachers already have countless responsibilities and shouldn’t be forced to have the responsibility of being armed. They were worried an armed teacher would be mistaken for a gunman by police, and they asked if the teacher would be responsible for protecting just their classroom or the entire school. And they worried about putting their teachers in harm’s way like that.
Or listen to the students at Stoneman Douglas—students like junior Carson Abt, whom you met and who wrote in the New York Times, “My teachers are the light. Through a combination of training and determination, they calmed the fear of some and saved the lives of others.” Teachers and school staff were truly the heroes on Feb. 14, sheltering students in closets and storage rooms, keeping them calm, getting them back into classrooms and shielding them with their own bodies. Carson credited active shooter drills and training for preparing them that day and saving lives; nowhere did he advocate arming teachers or adding more guns to schools.
Educators share this sentiment—the hundreds of educators I spoke with in Broward County after the tragic Parkland massacre and the 60,000 educators who were on a telephone town hall with me last Wednesday night.
The response we have heard is universal, most notably from educators who are gun owners, military veterans and National Rifle Association members: Teachers don’t want to be armed; we want to teach. Our first instinct is to protect kids, not engage in a shootout that would place more children in danger.
Your call to arm teachers raises several critical questions around the implementation, logistics and effectiveness of such a plan: How would arming teachers work? Would kindergarten teachers be carrying guns in holsters? Is every classroom now going to have a gun closet, and, if so, where would the key be stored? Would teachers be expected to regularly recertify, as required of many armed professionals? Would teachers get firearms similar to the military-style AR-15 weapons? What’s the risk of a troubled person disarming a teacher and then using that weapon against him or her?
Who would provide the billions of dollars it would take to pay for guns, ammunition and training, when so many schools currently lack nurses, guidance counselors and school resource officers and have a multitude of other unmet needs? In the seconds after an active shooter alert, are teachers supposed to get their guns or get their students to safety? Would teachers be held liable for their actions and decisions?
You may not have even thought about many of these questions, much less thought through them. That’s exactly why our voice is so important to this discussion.
We also have a number of recommendations on sensible steps we can take right now to create safe schools. These include ensuring mental health services are widely available; stopping your proposed cuts to school safety programs and other supports to help kids, such as after-school programs; staffing schools with well-trained resource officers, who may be armed if a community so decides; instituting wider background checks; and banning military-style assault weapons and munitions.
I hope that together we can find common ground on effective, meaningful solutions to protect our children, educators and schools. But that means listening to and learning from those who know our schools best.