Citizen Green: Arming teachers is not happening here

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Superintendent Sharon Contreras, board Chair Alan Duncan and Vice Chair Deena Hayes-Greene before a vote to table a resolution on school shootings. (photo by Jordan Green)

The addled celebrity who stars in our national reality-TV show suggests arming teachers to prevent school shootings. Fashioned from half-baked assumptions about the competency and trustworthiness of a certain kind of teacher and the fallacy that all school shooters are cowards, the proposal unfortunately must be debated because it comes from the president.

“You give them a little bonus,” Trump said during a meeting at the White House on Feb. 22. “So practically for free you have now made the school a hardened target.”

Practically for free. Oh, except for the cost of the firearms and training. And bonuses. That’s a quaint thought in North Carolina, where many classrooms haven’t seen new textbooks in years.

Two days later, the president was acknowledging that there would be a cost, and shunted off responsibility on the states.

“Armed Educators (and trusted people who work within a school) love our students and will protect them,” he tweeted on Feb. 24. “Very smart people. Must be firearms adept & have annual training. Should get a yearly bonus. Shootings will not happen again — a big & very expensive deterrent. Up to States.”

In other words, the proposal has no weight whatsoever, and is just a flimsy showbiz distraction.

In the absence of coherent and effective national leadership, decisions about school safety get made by local leaders like the adults who lead Guilford County Schools.

The speakers who addressed the Guilford County School Board on Tuesday evening were unanimous.

“I know there is some tension in the air talking about arming teachers,” said Todd Warren, president of the Guilford County Association of Educators. “I want to go on record on this: GCAE will be your next West Virginia if it comes to that. There is no way I will put armed teachers in a school building ever. Every bit of research tells us that the more guns you add to a situation the more likelihood of a deadly shooting. We need less guns, not more guns. More teachers. Two years ago I was up here talking about pencils; we don’t have the money for guns.”

Lisa Johnson-Tonkins, the Guilford County Clerk of Court, threw more cold water on the idea.

“As a former juvenile prosecutor, I also know how tensions become high in school in instances where students become involved in a fight or show disrespect toward teachers, and I would hate to think that an armed teacher lost their cool or maybe had some mental-health issues and used a gun, whether they meant to or accidentally used it on a student and that student was permanently unable to attend school,” Johnson-Tonkins said.

Andrew Johnson, a teacher, was one of a number of speakers of who argued that preventing school shootings requires educators to address the source of rage driving the violence.

“We need to confront head-on that most of the time these mass shootings are committed not by women or people of color, but by white men,” he said. “We need to confront the fact that many of our white teen boys feel entitled to privileges which every aspect of our society, including our education system, tells them they deserve, and that when those privileges are challenged they lash out violently.

“We need to modify our curriculum to specifically teach students about white supremacy, toxic masculinity and other oppressive power structures that breed violence,” Johnson continued. “We need to train our teachers to spot signs that their students are becoming radicalized by white-supremacist websites. In fact, we just need more teachers in general because few things lead to stronger relationships between teachers and students than smaller class sizes. We need to allocate fewer resources into policing and disciplining our students and more into counseling and forming positive relationships with them. That is what will lead to greater school safety and a more transformative educational experience for all of our students.”

The board wound up voting 7-2 to table a resolution on school shootings so members could have more time to hear public input and debate some finer points. But there’s no doubt that the two draft resolutions under consideration broadly align with the sentiments expressed during the public comment period.

Both resolutions demand “effective and comprehensive action from the federal government and the state of North Carolina to protect school children.” Both state unequivocally that the Guilford County School Board “is opposed to the arming of teachers to protect schools and children.” And both call on Congress and the General Assembly “to appropriate adequate, new funds to increase the number of counselors, mental health staff, psychologists, and social workers in our schools.”

Pat Tillman, a Republican who represents District 3 and a Marine Corps veteran, made the motion to table the resolution. He said after the meeting that he’d like to amend it to include a request for additional money for police in schools, known as school resource officers. That’s likely to run into opposition from progressive board members, teachers and parents who, like Andrew Johnson, want to de-emphasize law enforcement in schools.

But on one count, there’s likely to be little debate.

“I just don’t believe we have the tools, training or money to arm teachers,” Tillman said.

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