While the idea of arming teachers, as a means to increase school safety, is catching on in some areas, there’s no such momentum in Kootenai County.
“It’s a bad idea — even if teachers are trained,” said Bill Dean, a teacher at NewVision Alternative High School in Post Falls.
“I don’t think that’s giving law enforcement — the professionals who have the training when it comes to using a weapon in a moment of crisis — enough credit.”
Dean isn’t anti-guns — he regularly packs a pistol with him when he goes into the mountains and he’s a Navy veteran — but he believes teachers with guns is the wrong tactic to enhance school safety.
“I understand that kids’ safety is prominent, especially right now (after last month’s Connecticut school tragedy), but think it would be an over-reaction,” he said. “I think everyone needs to slow down and think this through carefully.
“There’s something in my vocabulary called ‘unintended consequences.’ And, when you’re dealing with parents and kids, it can get emotional at school.”
Dean said that, if it’s deemed school safety needs to be increased, hiring more school resource officers would be a better route.
“Maybe we need to be prepared to hire more officers and pay for it instead of doing everything on the cheap all the time,” he said.
Spencer Wirig, a Coeur d’Alene dentist and the father of four school children, feels differently, and told The Press he prefers that teachers who choose to become proficient with guns be allowed to carry concealed firearms in school.
“If given the choice of sending my kids to one of two schools, one school completely gun-free and the other with an undisclosed number of armed adults, it’s no question where I would send my children,” Wirig said. “Teachers consider themselves guardians of their students; let us give them the means, if they choose to act in that role. I do believe that the deterrent alone will virtually eliminate the need to ever put those tools into use as criminals will look for softer, easier targets.”
Local districts are exploring ways to increase school safety. Coeur d’Alene and Post Falls have added safety enhancements, including more SROs, to their supplemental levy proposals in March.
In Ohio, a firearms group said it’s launching a test program in tactical training for teachers. In Arizona, the attorney general is proposing a change to state law that would allow an educator in each school to carry a gun.
Some gun-rights advocates say teachers can act more quickly than law enforcement in the critical first few minutes to protect children and arming teachers would help with locking down a classroom.
Ann Rosenbaum, who teaches at Post Falls High and New Vision, said she has mixed feelings about arming teachers because of the complexities that would come with it, including the location of the firearm.
“If the weapon has to be locked up in a safe, we then have the issue of how much time it will take to get to that safe and unlock it,” she said. “And what if there is a school shooting and the teacher is out of the classroom at the time?”
Rosenbaum, who was a weapons instructor in the Marines and was raised around guns, said she would feel comfortable carrying a weapon at school and believes she could defend students in a high-pressure incident.
But she said she isn’t like most teachers.
“The majority of teachers have not had the type of training or experience that I have had,” Rosenbaum said. “There are many teachers with weapons experience, but target shooting and hunting are not the same as being in a life or death high-pressure situation where lives are on the line.”
Rosenbaum said the training in schools would need to be extensive and ongoing.
“I don’t think people are thinking about how difficult it would be to safely and effectively arm our teachers,” she said. “The teachers who volunteer to carry a weapon need to be mentally prepared for the fact that they may have to shoot another human being, and there will be innocent children and adults in close vicinity.”
Rosenbaum said schools are easy targets for violence.
“Everyone is looking for an immediate and easy fix to the problem, but there isn’t one,” she said.
Rosebaum believes the root of the problem is a mental health crisis, and that should be the focus. She said more SROs and improved lockdown procedures and safety plans are more logical than arming teachers.
Local school and police officials say there’s no movement to arm teachers.
“This has not come up in any discussions we have had with parents, employees or the board,” said Lakeland Superintendent Mary Ann Ranells. “We are focusing now on preventative measures to continue keeping schools the safest place for our children to be.”
Laura Rumpler, spokeswoman for the Coeur d’Alene School District, said the energy and focus of that administration and board has been on enhancing and improving safety measures in other ways, through capital improvements and the SRO program in partnership with Coeur d’Alene Police.
“We want to be able to have experts respond, the SROs, they’re trained for this,” Rumpler said.
Coeur d’Alene Police Sgt. Christie Wood oversees the SROs in Coeur d’Alene. The officers have been in Coeur d’Alene schools since 1995, and now have them posted at both traditional high schools, Project Bridge and all three middle schools.
“I feel that compared to other cities across the nation, we’re very progressive with the safety in our schools,” Wood said.
Post Falls Superintendent Jerry Keane said he could easily endorse having an SRO in all of the schools — Post Falls currently has two districtwide and is seeking a third — but there’s too many logistical problems with arming teachers.
“They have tremendous responsibilities as professional educators without having that additional responsibility,” he said.
Post Falls police Chief Scot Haug said arming teachers raises a lot of questions, including the ongoing training and testing that would be needed. Rather, ongoing collaboration between police and the schools on safety needs to happen.
“This planning should become part of our culture, not just discussed when a disaster strikes somewhere across the country,” he said.
Spirit Lake police Chief Gene Marquez said he believes schools already have adequate emergency plans in place.
“I believe if you look at the history of the school systems within Spirit Lake, you will find there were no alarming incidents which would raise the schools to the level of arming the teachers and administrators,” Marquez said. “Our students are being provided with reasonable safety accommodations.”