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Fairfax Teachers Union Launches Safety Survey

In light of Sandy Hook shootings and ahead of Virginia General Assembly kickoff this week, union turns to members to get opinion on guns in schools and what safe schools should look like.

In the weeks since the shootings at Sandy Hook Elementary School in Newtown, Conn., politicians and advocacy groups have issued recommendations for how schools can try to prevent the tragedy — which killed 26 students and school employees — from happening again.

A voice so far largely absent from those discussions in Fairfax and Northern Virginia: teachers.

One of Fairfax County's largest teachers unions is hoping to change that, launching Tuesday a security and schools survey asking its 4,265 members about the use of guns in schools, where the system could use extra security personnel, how safe schools are now and how to make them safer, among other topics.

"What I see more and more of is politicians posturing up and taking positions based upon whatever things they’re hearing," Fairfax County Federation of Teachers President Steve Greenburg told Patch. "The one thing I know they're not basing it upon is what their teachers are saying because they haven’t asked them."

"I appreciate everybody’s perspective, but I'd rather hear from those that are actually in the schools with our children," he added.

School safety — and gun control and arming teaches specifically — has dominated conversation at many of the town hall meetings area legislators are holding ahead of this year's Virginia General Assembly session, which starts Wednesday.

House of Delegates Speaker William Howell (R-28th) told WTOP he expects legislators to spend significant time discussing school security during this year's session.  

Shortly after the December shootings, the Virginia-based National Rifle Association called for "armed security' around schools; Virginia Gov. Bob McDonnell said arming school personnel is "a reasonable discussion that ought to be had."

"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," he said during a radio program on WTOP.

Prince William County's Del. Robert G. Marshall (R-13th) has filed a bill requiring every school board in the state to "designate at least one qualified person for every school in the district who, upon application with the school board, may carry a concealed handgun on school property."

The bill does not limit school boards to a single designee, but all those appointed to carry guns — school division employees, volunteers, or retired law-enforcement officers — would have to be trained and certified by the Virginia Center for School Safety or the National Rifle Association, according to the bill.

Virginia educators from three state-level organizaions—the Virginia Association of Secondary School Principals (VASSP), the Virginia Association of Elementary School Principals (VAESP) and the Virginia Association of School Superintendents (VASS)—spoke out against the governor's suggestion, saying the issue is complex and deserves more "diverse solutions."

For one: providing more funding for assistant principals, counselors and support staff, who act as the "eyes and ears of the school" but whose salaries or positions have disappeared over the past several years. 

Greenburg said it was important to establish a position locally in Fairfax County, to inform legislators as they craft or vote on bills, as well as the county's school system as it faces discussions on the issue over the next several months.

Fairfax, like other jurisdictions, stepped up security around schools in the week following the Connecticut shootings, but officials are expecting early recommendations from a newly formed state school safety task force charged with identifying weaknesses in school security at all levels and reviewing best practices to avoid tragedies such as Newtown and the Virginia Tech shooting in April 2007 — at the end of January.

McDonnell's office has said the recommendations will be finalized and implemented by the start of the 2013-2014 school year.

"I would certainly hope that our legislators, our local school officials ... would care deeply about what their educators' perspective is on this and I hope they would use this information to make the best decisions," Greenburg said.

FCFT's survey will close Jan. 16. 

Michele Menapace January 08, 2013 at 04:59 PM
Erica, can you elaborate on the school safety task force? Any parents involved? What's the scope of their review? Will their report be presented to the school board for public comment? Bravo to our teacher leaders--Steven Greenburg and Michael Hairston, especially--for their ongoing efforts. Both have demonstrated how important it is to honestly engage their constituencies, as well as the parents of students they teach, in order to have meaningful communications with school leaders.
Erica R. Hendry January 08, 2013 at 06:31 PM
Hi Michele, Perhaps that sentence wasn't clear: the task force is at the state level. You can read more about that here: http://vienna.patch.com/articles/after-newtown-mcdonnell-forms-school-safety-task-force-96774e78 (I just updated the story and added the word "state" in front of task force). Thanks for reading, Erica
Ann Larsen January 09, 2013 at 12:03 PM
Erica, What type of questions does the survey include....are these surveys going to be used statewide? Ann
Erica R. Hendry January 09, 2013 at 02:57 PM
Hi Ann-- this is a survey just for members of the Fairfax County Federation of Teachers, though results will be shared with local and (likely) state officials. A PDF is attached to the top but some samples are: Are our school facilities safe and secure? Do you believe there should be guns in schools? Which 'types' of schools require security personnel? Do you believe that security personnel can make our schools safe? There are more, those are just a few, Erica
Parent January 09, 2013 at 05:54 PM
As a possible supporter, I would demand that a "updated" background check along with mental and emotional evaluations are conducted on any teacher that would like to have a gun in their possession during school hours! As a former student and employee, neighbor; and parent in Fairfax County since 1955 there are definitely teachers whether young or old that should not be in possession of a handgun...I know a middle school teacher that works in Vienna that is not stable enough to handle a gun, she lacks maturity and common sense... Just because they are teachers does not mean that they are stable enough to have a gun during school hours.
Douglas Manuel January 11, 2013 at 04:41 AM
Sharon, I do not know any details, but your description of an "unstable" teacher in the classroom may warrant alerting the administration, so they can assess whether further action is necessary.
Don Joy January 22, 2013 at 08:55 PM
Anyone who thinks teachers' unions should be consulted as to the best interests of our children is barking up the wrong tree. Teachers' unions are all about the teachers themselves, period. I strongly urge everyone to watch the excellent film, "Won't Back Down." You will never look at public education and teachers' unions the same way again, I guarantee you.
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