Poll of parents: Most don’t want armed teachers

As a new school year begins, a recent poll shows a majority parents don’t want their child’s teacher carrying a gun to school despite a “disturbing” level of concern about safety.

The annual Phi Delta Kappa International poll from earlier this year has been probing American attitudes about schools for half a century, and the newest installment says the current level of worry hasn’t been seen in two decades.

One in three parents fears for their child’s safety at school, which is “a disturbing number to express such a fundamental concern,” the authors observe.

For them, more guns are not the answer. “By and large, those parents want to strengthen existing systems of security — using metal detectors at entrances, counseling for troubled students — rather than having teachers and staff carry guns in schools without plenty of screening,” said Joshua P. Starr, chief executive officer of PDK International.

Two out of three respondents said they didn’t want their child in a classroom with an armed teacher, though attitudes differed based on political affiliation, with 57 percent of Republicans in favor versus 39 percent of independents and 17 percent of Democrats. The notion was also more acceptable if guns were allowed only with teachers who’d undergone rigorous training — at least 80 hours’ worth. In that case, support was about half and half, though the strongly opposed, 33 percent, still outnumbered the strong supporters, 20 percent.

The poll found some common ground. A large majority of parents, regardless of partisanship, favor armed police in schools, through Republicans were the most supportive. Metal detectors were also popular across party lines, especially among less educated, lower-income and non-white parents, who, perhaps not coincidentally, were the most fearful. Mental health screening of all students was supported by at least three out of four polled, though partisan allegiance reflected a difference in opinion when it came to paying for it, with Democrats more supportive than Republicans.

The results were released as Georgia debates how to address safety. Lawmakers have been holding listening sessions across the state, hearing recommendations about everything from training exercises to mental health, even as a handful of Georgia school districts take steps to allow armed teachers.