The Valentine’s Day mass shooting in a Parkland, Fla. high school resulted in the deaths of 17 students and staff members, while 14 more were injured. Among the proposed solutions to preventing what has been called one of the deadliest school massacres to have ever taken place is allowing teachers to carry guns in the classroom.
The superintendents of Dunn County’s four school districts expressed themselves as uncomfortable with the idea of arming teachers to make schools safer— but they concede that the issue is complex. Most point out that before the idea could actually become a reality, existing federal and state legislation would first need to be changed.
William C. Yingst, Jr., superintendent of the School District of Colfax, noted that not only would the Federal Gun-Free School Zones Act of 1990 need to be reviewed and repealed, “The state of Wisconsin would need to pass legislation to allow this. Wisconsin State Attorney General, Brad Schimel, suggested that local school districts should have this option, and that his office would provide gun training to school staff if lawmakers agreed to allow it, according to the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel article published on Feb. 20.”
Published in his School Crossings column in last Saturday’s edition of The News, Joe Zydowsky, district administrator of the School District of the Menomonie Area, stated: “Generally, I think that in most cases arming teachers or other school employees is a bad idea, but I also recognize that this issue is complicated with no perfect solution readily available. ... Unfortunately, society’s inability to effectively manage the root causes of public violence has required policymakers to consider a variety of solutions, some of which probably would have been unthinkable to most people less than a decade ago.”
Kevin D. Sipple, superintendent of the Boyceville Community School District, pointed out that it’s difficult to comment on the subject of arming teachers when there hasn’t been a specific proposal.
“At face value, it’s a bad idea,” Sipple said. “We don’t know what type of training these teachers have to have to carry is being proposed. We don’t know what type of ongoing training is being proposed. We don’t know how these people would be selected. We don’t know too many things to even suggest it is a good or bad idea.”
Eric Wright, superintendent of the Elk Mound Area School District, thinks that the viability of existing safety measures should be considered first: “What I would propose … is let’s talk about the things we’re doing as a district and in Dunn County to provide school safety. In Elk Mound, we do multiple safety trainings with our staff, we do trainings with our students on active shooter situations — of course, at the younger age, we don’t call it active shooter … more stranger danger type thing.”
In additions to having controlled entrances involving buzzers and key fobs for access at all three of Elk Mound’s schools, Wright added, “We’re involved with the Dunn County Safety Team — where all police, state patrol, sheriffs … we come together with human services and EMS to talk about things that are going on in our county,” Wright added. “We all have crisis plans.”
The same holds true at the county’s other schools. Zydowsky said that the Menomonie district has retrofitted its building and changed policies to better control access. “We have improved response protocols, provided training for staff, and practiced with students how to best handle a hypothetical situation with an armed intruder.”
Yingst reported that for the past seven years, there has been an increased emphasis on school safety as the district’s No. 1 priority.
“The most recent measures include a referendum project which moved our high school office from the center of the building to the entrance of the building,” Yingst explained. “Another item is controlled entry into the building and doors being locked throughout the day. Our staff is trained in the ALICE [Alert, Lockdown, Inform, Counter, Evacuate] concept. We work in close partnership with our local police chief and the Dunn County Sheriff’s Department with our school crisis plans. We feel each of these measures are good steps to take; however, there is no guaranteed plan to take care of 100 percent of the security issues we may face.”
“We have also taken steps to better identify and respond to students with mental health needs or those demonstrating at-risk behaviors, and we have tried to partner with the city to expand the presence of police liaison officers in our schools,” Zydowsky wrote. “My preference would be that funding is provided for other safety features, more police liaison officers, or armed security guards in schools. But if funding isn’t provided, leaders might be forced to be more creative in considering other solutions for improving safety measures.”
Wright said that the Elk Mound district supports students through mental health options: “One of the key points is we place an emphasis as a staff in our district to try to have a connection with every child so that every child has an adult they look up to or feel like they can communicate with, especially if they’re feeling stressed or upset about something.”
Sipple feels that until the notion of teachers carrying guns in schools has been thoroughly examined, “I think it’s a bad idea. One innocent student or staff person injured by an armed teacher would be a mistake not worth making from a school district standpoint.”
Zydowsky notes, ”Since any large-scale fixes to the root causes of these problems would likely take some time to positively impact communities across the country, ideas for what else can be done now to immediately improve the safety and security of schools should be considered.”
Calling it a “misleading statement”, Yingst takes issue with the term “arming teachers” — “If any phrase or group were to be used, it should be stated as ‘arming qualified school district employees.’ The phrase ‘arming teachers’ makes this topic even more contentious and promotes even more fear in people. A dialogue has been started, and the idea is being explored.”
But whether at a building or a district level, Wright said, “We talk about we’re a family; we need to support each other always — whether you’re a child, a family member, a parent, a community member. Because ultimately, the more we work together, the safer communities we will have.”