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Guns in Schools: Virginia, Fairfax Educators Speak Out

Representatives of three state education agencies issued a rebuttal to Gov. McDonnell's comments about possibly allowing teachers and other school staff to carry weapons.

Virginia educators said they are concerned about the governor’s interest in allowing teachers and staff members to carry guns into schools, noting violence prevention isn’t an issue of more guns, but more funding.

Officials with three education associations—the Virginia Association of Secondary School Principals (VASSP), the Virginia Association of Elementary School Principals (VAESP) and the Virginia Association of School Superintendents (VASS)—released a statement Friday on the issue.

It came shortly after the National Rifle Association (NRA) called for "armed security" around schools but was in response to statements earlier this week by Virginia Gov. Bob McDonnell.

The education organizations said they appreciate Gov. McDonnell’s efforts to begin talks about increased safety in schools in light of the mass shootings at Sandy Hook Elementary School, but they think other options should be explored. 

The Republican governor discussed Virginia schools during a Tuesday interview on WTOP.

When asked about the idea of allowing adults, supervisors, principals and teachers to be armed inside schools in Virginia, the governor said the idea should at least be discussed.

"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,” McDonnell said.

Fairfax County School Board members expressed their opinions about the issue Thursday during their last regular meeting of the year . Elizabeth Schultz (Springfield) said she doesn't think teachers should be armed, and many of her colleagues agreed.

Ryan McElveen (at large) said the board should take leadership when it comes to the issue of safety in the schools and whether it's a good idea to arm educators.

"Sure we could install bulletproof glass or go back to the days with windows with grills. But we need to make those small steps. The Board needs to take leadership," he said. "I think the last thing we need in Fairfax County is 20,000 more guns to arm our employees with."

Since the Dec. 14 shootings in Newtown, the board has received multiple phone calls from concerned parents. Tamara Derenak Kaufax (Lee) addressed parents' concerns by reassuring them that the schools are providing the best safety measures for students.

"I know some of you are looking to us as your leaders and we are doing everything and providing the best safety measures that are known to us," she said. "What I want you all to know is that we are here for you. We are listening to you. We understand your fears and we are here to keep you as safe as possible."

Ilryong Moon, chairman at large, said faculty and staff care about each child in the Fairfax County school system. Superintendent Jack Dale told parents who attended the meeting FCPS employees patrol the areas around the schools in the county to reassure safety for all students.

"We’re also continually trying to refine and improve. Our staff is trained to be vigilant, and all of our schools are locked so no one can gain access without approval," Dale said.

School safety is a deep-rooted issue and research indicates a “thoughtful” approach to safety in schools, one that goes beyond school campuses and into the communities, is needed in order to protect children, officials with the three associations said.

“ … We are concerned, however, with the governor’s interest in permitting staff to carry firearms as a possible deterrent to violence in schools,” officials wrote in the joint statement issued Friday. “We believe the problem is more complex and the conversation needs to encompass other and more diverse solutions …”

Additionally, educational practices and programs that support the social, behavioral and emotional needs of the students is needed, state educators said.

“We cannot and should not turn our schools into fortresses,” said Ben Kiser, VASS president and superintendent of Gloucester County Schools. 

“Effective prevention cannot wait until there is a gunman in a school parking lot; we need resources such as School Resource Officers, assistant principals, mental health supports and threat assessment teams in every school and community so that people can seek assistance when they recognize that someone is troubled and requires help.”

The roles of school resource officers and assistant principals should be well defined, followed by an increase in funding for both positions—funding that was decreased by the state general assembly, officials said.

The Virginia Standards of Quality should be amended and require there be one principal in each school building, educators wrote in the release. It should also require an assistant principal be in place for schools with 400 or more students, which is different from the current requirement of 600 students, they said.

Funding for support staff and non-classroom personnel has also been cut by lawmakers, educators said, but employees in these positions are vital because they could serve as the “eyes and ears” of the schools.

"Our children deserve better," former VASSP president Carolyn Bernard said. “With continuous cuts, existing staff are being forced to try to accomplish much more with less. It is becoming difficult to focus on developing relationships and encouraging engagement with students."

Educators suggest school construction funds could potentially be used to encourage local school divisions to address security. Many older buildings and facilities were constructed prior to the current guidelines and regulations, educators said in the joint statement.

More on this issue: 

NRA Calls for 'Armed Security' Around Schools

Del. Marshall: Some School Staff should Carry Guns

Sen. Warner: Newtown a 'Game Changer' on Guns

Speak Out: Should Teachers Be Armed?

Kingstowne Patch Editor Raytevia Evans contributed to this article.

Nein Juan Juan December 24, 2012 at 05:29 AM
Behavior is criminal or not based on the law, not whether there is a police officer present during questioning. And while some minor violations should be handled administratively, there have been many cases in previous times where serious criminal offenses have been wrongly handled administratively. Regardless, this article is about school safety. If there had been an armed SRO at Newtown, the assailant most certainly would have chosen a different location.
Nein Juan Juan December 24, 2012 at 05:30 AM
Allowing teachers and staff to be armed is not that radical of an idea. Many teachers already have concealed weapons permits (CWP) and are trained to use firearms. They carry their firearms to the grocery store, mall, and movies and no one is aware of it. If we allowed people with CWP's to carry in schools no one would notice any difference in day to day activities. No one can say for sure, but if there had been even one armed teacher at Newtown, there most likely would have been fewer victims. More firearms in the hands of the good guys is not a solution but it does make us safer.
Detelina Ivanova December 24, 2012 at 02:13 PM
What a brilliant idea - NOT! Allow teachers and school staff to carry weapons day to day, and how long do you thing it will be before one of them snaps under the pressure of dealing with 20-30-40 unruly kids??? Have any of these brilliant lawmakers dealt with kids in large groups? This is profound, transcendent cynicism, to create a boon for the gun manufacturers after a tragedy for which they and their shameless hunt for profits at the expense of the American public are eminently culpable.
Nein Juan Juan December 24, 2012 at 05:20 PM
Have you dealt with a large group of students on a day to day basis? Are you so unstable that you think that weapons should be hidden from you so you don't someday harm children. I was a teacher and there has never ever, even on my worst day, been a time when I would have lost control enough that I would hurt a student. Normal people don't just snap under pressure and start killing people. I have been carrying a firearm for almost thirty years and have become angry at people many times but I have never had the urge to draw my weapon in anger. And I am not atypical of gun owners. Since Virginia passed the "shall issue law" about 2 decades ago, almost 300,000 concealed weapon permits have been issued. How many of those people have gone on a shooting rampage? I have not heard of a single one. Conversely, according to the U.S. Dept. of Justice Bureau of Justice Statistics, firearms are used legally for self defense around 100,000 times a year. Unfortunately, you don't read about those stories in the Washington Post or see them on the national news, but there are stories everyday in local papers all over the country of people defending themselves with firearms, usually without having to fire a shot.
Don Joy January 16, 2013 at 01:28 PM
Detelina, there are numerous areas of the country where school teachers and/or other staff are armed. Numerous times, they have stopped bad guy shooters and saved lives of children & others. Provide me with ONE single example of a teacher doing what you claim is such a prohibitive liability.

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