ST. GEORGE – While discussion and debate is had across the county on either the virtue or fallacy of arming teachers as a way to prevent school shootings, if you’re an educator in Utah and you’re a concealed carry permit holder, you can pack a firearm on campus.
Just as Utah law restricts universities and colleges from creating policies restricting concealed firearms on campus, neither can school districts, said Steve Dunham, communications director for the Washington County School District.
“We can’t even ask them if they’re carrying,” Dunham said.
And how does school district Superintendent Larry Bergeson feel about the idea of concealed carry on school grounds?
“I feel that we should support the current state law which allows teachers, if they choose on their own, to have and maintain a concealed carry permit at their discretion,” Bergeson said in an email to St. George News.
The question about armed teachers took center stage – along with other topics concerning school safety and gun control – thanks in part to President Donald Trump who said he supports having armed educators.
“Armed Educators (and trusted people who work within a school) love our students and will protect them,” Trump tweeted Feb. 24. “Very smart people. Must be firearms adept & have annual training. Should get yearly bonus. Shootings will not happen again – a big & very inexpensive deterrent. Up to States.”
The idea has met with resistance, such as from Lily Eskaleen Garcia, president of the National Education Association.
“Bringing more guns into our schools does nothing to protect our students and educators from gun violence,” Garcia said in a statement in response to Trump. “… Educators need to be focused on teaching our students. We need solutions that will keep guns out of the hands of those who want to use them to massacre innocent children and educators. Arming teachers does nothing to prevent that.”
Still, a teacher has the opportunity to become a concealed carry permit holder in Utah if they so choose. The question may be if they would actually do it.
“I wouldn’t feel very comfortable with that,” said Anisa Scholes, a teacher at Dixie Middle School.
If a disturbed student knows she has a gun on her, they might attempt to overpower her and take it, Scholes said. As well, she wondered if she’d even be able to use the gun.
Scholes said she may not have the fortitude to point a gun at someone and pull the trigger.
“I don’t know if I’d be mentally prepared for that,” she said.
Part of being a concealed carry permit holder is asking yourself: “Do I have the ability to kill somebody?” It was a point made by the instructor of a concealed carry class St. George News covered in 2013.
In some cases, the one perpetrating the shooting at a school may be a student.
“You have to come to grips with that,” said Kay Pierce, who worked as an office secretary at Dixie Middle School for over 30 years. Pierce supports the idea of having armed teachers. Why?
“Because they are the first ones out there who will contact the shooter,” she said, adding she also understands not all teachers would be comfortable with the idea.
However, there should be a plan in place on how to respond to a school shooting. There should also be lessons and help for teachers who would choose to carry a concealed weapon on campus, Pierce said.
The school district does have plans in place concerning active shooter scenarios. It, like other districts, also holds mock school shooting incidents that law enforcement agencies participate in.
Among the plans and procedures Scholes favors is the school having just one entry open during school hours as well as additional surveillance and security keeping tabs on people who enter the school.
Julie Cordero, a teacher at Desert Hills Middle School, also isn’t so keen on the concept of being armed as it it is just one more thing a teacher will be expected to deal with on top of being an educator. Instead, she favors there being better communication between teachers from appropriate sources if they have a student in their class they need to watch out for.
“There has to be more diligence about communicating with teachers,” Cordero said.
Daniel Cluff, a science teacher at Pine View Middle School, also voiced concerns about having an additional, potential strain put on teachers by asking them to carry a firearm.
“You have to be a development specialist, you have to be a child specialist, you have to be a legal expert – and now we want you to be armed and be a tactical officer,” Cluff said. “And by the way, how much do you get paid a year?”
It becomes a question of priority, he said.
Among the concerns of there being armed teachers on campus is the question of how responding law enforcement knows who the shooter is and who isn’t.
“I now have a (school resource officer) that’s roaming the halls and he doesn’t know I’m armed,” Cluff said. “I don’t want to put him in that position.”
This is a scenario police chiefs have brought up with the school district.
“I know that some local police chiefs have expressed concerns that if they are coming to a school on a call with an armed intruder, they would engage whomever they find that is armed at the school,” Superintendent Bergeson said. “This could have the potential to be doubly tragic if that person is a teacher who is armed.”
As to that concern, Bergeson said he would defer to law enforcement on how best to handle and avoid such a situation.
“Again, I would defer to our local law enforcement who have proven their trustworthiness in this matter,” Bergeson said. “We have well trained school resource officers (SROs) in every secondary school in the District. They are practiced and prepared and we would not want to do anything to impede them in their efforts. In short, we trust our SROs completely.”
An elementary school teacher of 30 years, Kurt Ivie said he favors measures that could be taken on the legislative level to help curb school gun violence, like improving background checks and raising age requirements on certain gun purchases as well as revamping mental health care.
“Nevertheless,” Ivie said, “the absolute truth is, a person that is set on violence will find a way.”
“If there were a highly adept, police-trained, prepared, competent and responsible teacher on campus that could distract, detain or discourage an armed intruder during this time and potentially save lives, well,” he said, “this is a discussion, debate or argument that needs to happen.”
Copyright St. George News, SaintGeorgeUtah.com LLC, 2018, all rights reserved.