One of the ideas for improved security in schools suggested by President Trump and others after last month's Parkland, Florida, mass shooting is arming teachers.
In Florida, Gov. Rick Scott on Friday signed a package of gun-related measures passed by the Legislature, including the Coach Aaron Feis Guardian Program under which school employees can be armed.
We have conflicting thoughts on the subject.
To say we have reservations about this idea is an understatement. As a nation, we believe the U.S. can and should do better than to expect school personnel who have enough important matters on their plates to assume additional responsibilities for armed protection of students and colleagues.
Our initial reaction includes concern about the potential for a raft of unintended negative consequences within schools because teachers and other school staff members are not law enforcement professionals whose responsibilities each and every day involve public safety and the potential for violence and emergencies.
In other words, we do not openly advocate for this strategy as a response to America's school violence problem.
However, we have evolved in our position on the subject to a point where we at least are willing to listen if and where this discussion arises if the proposed approach is voluntary within strict parameters, including extensive training, and allows for proper input from the public.
In 2013, Texas created a school marshal program, patterned after the sky marshal program for commercial aircraft. Under the program, schools can designate one marshal for every 400 students or one per building in schools with fewer than 400 students. School marshal candidates undergo background checks, psychological evaluations and training.
"After making application with the Texas Commission on Law Enforcement, a qualifying institution must send the candidate to an 80-hour training course, conducted by a law enforcement academy that has been specifically prepared to provide the school marshal curriculum," according to the Texas Commission on Law Enforcement. "Among the topics covered in the school marshal course are: physical security, improving the security of the campus, use of force, active shooter response and weapon proficiency. No other course can be substituted or exempt an individual from the specific school marshal training course."
We do not view this program as entirely unreasonable.
No district or school in any state should be required to arm teachers or school staff members and no teacher or school staff member should be forced to take training in firearms and carry a weapon to school. Conversely, we don't wish to see schools filled with armed teachers. The patrons of any school district or school building considering arming school personnel in a state where it's legal should be informed and involved in the final decision. This isn't an idea supported by everyone, certainly, but it may be acceptable in, say, an isolated, rural school removed from law enforcement by long distance.
Within the national discussion about arming school staff members, this much seems clear to us: It should be considered more of a last option and less of a first option.