Sunday, December 30, 2012

Guns in Schools? "Teachers Shouldn't Have to Go to Boot Camp to Teach Romeo and Juliet!"

NOW, the letter I really DID send...hopefully it's respectful and professional. The other was for fun...or for venting.

Dear Representatives McCullough and Shorty:
I’m writing to you and copying to the Education Committees to express my deep and abiding opposition to your proposed bill intending to arm public school personnel.

I’m a career teacher with over thirty years of teaching in Oklahoma, at every level in public education, K-12. I’ve also taught at both OU and SNU. I’m a fourth-generation teacher. I have spent my entire adult life in classrooms, so I hope you respect my perspective.

I believe your motivation for the bill is pure – you want to protect our children. I also believe your solution to keeping students safe is the wrong one.

Many experts emphatically state that liability issues in arming teachers would be prohibitively expensive. The potential for accidents is high. Who will pay the insurance? Who will pay the damages when a student overpowers a teacher and grabs a gun?

Who will pay when a teacher with a weapon, in an attempt to protect students, accidentally injures or kills a student? Who pays when a child is caught in the crossfire? Who pays when an armed teacher becomes a target because of the weapon? Will your bill make provisions to hold teachers ‘harmless’ from any legal action? What about the schools who allow teachers to carry guns? Will they also be held harmless? Will irate parents sue the state instead? Will they sue you?

 I understand the CLEET training your bill requires is more intensive than typically available, but even highly trained law enforcement officers and soldiers make tragic mistakes in the heat of battle. They kill each other. They hesitate and are killed. If this happens to professionals, I guarantee teachers will make more mistakes. And the mistakes will injure children, kill children.

I have spoken to parents of school-aged children who emphatically say they’ll move from the public schools or even from the state if this bill passes and if their children’s teachers carry weapons in the classroom. Parents do not want armed teachers…will you listen to them?

Attacks like Columbine, Aurora, Newtown, were sudden and horrifying. Even law enforcement officers on site would be hard-pressed to respond quickly and accurately in stressful circumstances. I’ll tell you, my school, Norman North, has two armed officers on site, ready to do just that.

When compared to the precious lives of our children, a discussion of cost seems crass and petty. But there will be costs involved with the enactment of your bill. Who pays for the teachers to be trained? Right now our OSDE won’t even pay for training teachers in the new evaluation model which will be used to possibly fire us. Who pays for the weapons teachers bring to school? Who pays for the ammunition? The lock boxes? The holsters? If a teacher brings a personal weapon, does that liability fall on his or her shoulders?

The past few years have made me cynical when policymakers talk about education. My cynical self wonders about this bill…

Why not a bill requiring an armed guard at every school, like Norman North currently has?

Why not enhanced facilities and support for families struggling with mental health issues? With troubled members of their family?

Could the answer be that crass cost element? Could there be an element of ‘solve it cheap’ instead of ‘solve it right?’

Superintendent Kevin Burr of Sapulpa Schools estimates the cost of an armed security guard in every school in Oklahoma to be $15 million.  Are you unwilling to invest this amount in our children and are you hoping enough gung-ho teacher will jump at your offer?

Are you hoping you can then wash your hands of the problem of school violence and school security? Are you planning to say, “Well, we gave those teachers the chance to carry a gun. Not our fault if they killed a student, or didn’t stop the bad guy…we tried”? Are you planning to blame teachers if future attacks aren't thwarted?

Are you hoping to give the appearance of caring about our children, while doing it on the cheap?
Are you hoping parents DO desert the schools so you can label us failures?

Classrooms are sacred places for teachers and students. We create community; we laugh and learn. We celebrate and grieve. We create a climate of trust so learning and teaching can occur, so risks can be taken safely. Guns in this sacred place will not make any of us safer. It will destroy our climate of trust.

One of my former students, in a FaceBook conversation about gun control told me this. I want Nick’s words to be the end of my plea to you.

“Teachers make the commitment to further lives every day they go to work. To ask one to end a life is not only contradictory to their soul, but it would be unfair to MAKE them have to choose.
Post a Marine at the doors, put a cop in a janitor uniform, or something else. I may not have the answer, but I do not think teachers should have to go to boot camp in order to teach Romeo and Juliet.”


  1. An excellent article/letter, Claudia. I would like to know if either of these legislators responds. What you say about this being an attempt on the legislature's part to fix a problem "on the cheap" is valid. This has been the tendency of Oklahoma politicians in response to social problems for the last 30 years.

  2. You know, Lynn, it was a couple of days after I heard about this that I started wondering just that. And the other, more sinister idea is this: do SOME want a terrible accident to happen so they can point fingers at teachers and blame them? That made me sick just thinking about it.

    I hope others write and call and create a stink...This is truly scary...and maybe cynically evil.