President Donald Trump’s proposal to arm up to 20 percent of school teachers and staff as a way to deter school shootings has generated strong opinions. And while some Kansas officials have given tacit approval to the idea — Gov. Jeff Colyer said providing bonuses may be a good way to incentive teachers to carry, while noting that it’s presently up to local districts in Kansas to decide if they want to arm teachers — the idea does not have support among Shawnee Mission leaders.
Interim Superintendent Kenny Southwick said at Monday’s board meeting that the idea of asking teachers to take on the responsibility of carrying firearms “causes me great concern.”
“It is not the answer,” he said.
Following a mother’s question about their stance on the Trump’s proposal at Monday’s meeting, we invited all seven members of the board to share their thoughts on arming teachers. All said they were not in favor of the idea. Here are the statements we received from board members.
Brad Stratton (board president)
While the Shawnee Mission Board of Education has not addressed this question directly as a board meeting agenda item or policy consideration, I concur with the response that Dr. Southwick shared at the school board meeting on Monday night when he responded to this question by stating, “It is not the answer.”
We are fortunate in the Shawnee Mission School District to have a full-time district police department in place that is staffed with fully trained and certified law enforcement officers.
And we are also fortunate to have recently installed state of the art security systems in our buildings throughout the district.
As an elected volunteer member of the Board of Education, I rely on the experience and expertise of our Director of Emergency Services John Douglass and his team of officers to be our best defense in the school district. And more importantly, I want to ensure that our teachers can focus on what they do best; to be the best educators of our children in the school district.
I shared in the Board meeting that I recently attended a local meeting of Moms Demand Action for Gun Sense in America. Reducing gun violence, especially against children, is something very close to my heart. I will actively work to make sure that existing gun control laws are enforced and that new laws are created in order to keep our children safe. But arming teachers will not keep children safe. Putting more guns in schools means creating more opportunities for students to find ways to access those guns. We have trained police officers in our schools who know how to deal with potentially dangerous situations and they are the only ones who should have access to lethal weapons.
As a former teacher, I know that I would never teach in a school where my colleagues had access to weapons and where they were expected to make a life-or-death decision in a split-second under great duress. As a parent, I would never send my children to a school like that, either.
Teachers have chosen this vocation because they want to create – to build minds, increase understanding, foster healthy development and nurture future generations of responsible and productive citizens. We must allow them to focus on that great task. Meanwhile, the safety of our students and staff will continue to be the primary focus for the Director of Safety and Security, John Douglass, and his team. They, along with local police, are the professionals who have the knowledge and training we need in a potentially dangerous situation.
Dr. Southwick provided at last night’s meeting that from the administration’s perspective, that this isn’t the way to go, and I fully support the administration in this decision. As a mother of children in the district, I prefer delegating security responsibilities to the uniformed officers, and delegating educating children to the teachers. Chief Douglass, Executive Director of Emergency Services, and former Overland Park Police Department Chief of Police, has implemented a security plan that is being used as a model for districts across the country. He has hired several police officers to serve the SMSD security team. A quick look through the SMSD’s organizational chart reveals we have teams dedicated to facilities maintenance, nutritional needs, and transportation, to name only a few. Our educators are hired to teach, not update buildings, prepare meals, drive buses, or carry weapons.
I do not support the idea of arming SMSD teachers as a security measure against school shootings, for a variety of reasons. Our educators are hired to teach and to prepare students to be ready for college, career and civic engagement. Yet, expectations of teachers far exceed this job description. Joe Heller’s Arming Teachers cartoon wordle captures the degree to which society has pushed this boundary beyond mission creep. I share the prevention-oriented approach expressed by Kansas teacher, Olivia Bertels, and cofounder of the #ArmMeWith movement. We need to be arming our teachers with engaging curriculum materials, with time for individualized planning, professional development and collaboration, with time to build relationships with students and parents. We need to be arming our teachers with instructional support from counselors and social workers, with smaller class sizes that allow teachers to be responsive. Shawnee Mission has professionally trained police officers on staff to enhance security – arming teachers is more likely to decrease safety. Let’s provide our educators with instructional resources, with snacks, pencils, art supplies, technology and books – not guns.
Board members Deb Zila, Sara Goodburn and Patty Mach responded to our inquiry saying that they agreed with Stratton’s remarks.