As school districts wind down for the end of the academic year, school safety remains a topic on the minds of many people. Both the state Senate and House of Representatives have recently formed committees to look for solutions and explore best practices. And just Wednesday, the Georgia Association of Educators reaffirmed its stance against authorizing teachers to carry guns on campus.
“Security of school campuses should be the focus of security professionals and the focus of teachers and students should be teaching and learning,” said GAE General Counsel Mike McGonigle in a news release. “We strongly spoke out against a past bill giving teachers the ability to carry concealed weapons in K-12 schools and we will continue to do so. We also believe the unfortunate and persistent climate of racial bias and disparities as currently exists in public education, coupled with teachers carrying weapons, could contribute to students of color feeling even more marginalized,” he said.
McGonigle also noted that legislators eliminated a 1,000-foot weapons-free buffer zone around schools a few years ago. “We encourage lawmakers – as we did then — to reinstate those buffer zones particularly around K-12 schools,” he said.
At the first meeting of the House Study Committee on School Security on Monday, panels of county sheriffs and school superintendents were divided on arming teachers.
Many heads were shaking “no” when the question came up, but Fannin County Sheriff Dane Kirby defended his school district’s recent decision to authorize teachers to carry weapons. He said, “The response from people in the community is overwhelmingly positive.”
Bleckley County officials had discussed a similar step, but decided to survey “parents, staff, students and the community” about letting teachers carry guns, and then develop recommendations to the school board. It wasn’t on the board’s agenda Tuesday night.
When Gwinnett County school board candidates were asked about it at a May 7 forum, only one candidate suggested considering it. Steve Knudsen, a Republican candidate for District 2, didn’t say he’s in favor of it, but said the district should at least look into arming teachers.
“My general thought is that I don’t want to dismiss anything out of hand, but I don’t want to telegraph it,” he said. “I look at it like having a sky marshal — everyone knows there’s a possibility and maybe that curtails some crime.”
Knudsen’s opponent in the primary, Carol Ranft, agreed with the rest of the candidates that guns in schools are a bad idea. She recalled an incident with her sister-in-law, who is a teacher. “She came upon someone who broke into the school and was going through her purse. What if she’d had a gun in there?”
Democrats Donald May and Wandy Taylor are also looking to replace longtime board member Daniel Seckinger, who decided against running again. Like Ranft, they were opposed to the idea of teachers carrying weapons in school.
May said there are other things such as cameras, drills and resource officers to ensure school safety. But like other candidates, he’d like to use the officers as mentors and counselors to thwart incidents instead of just handling them.
Taylor said she doesn’t want to see more duties added to teachers.“I grew up in a time when teachers were respected and revered,” she said. “It’s hard to recruit and retain good teachers because they are overwhelmed and under appreciated. We need to remember that they have children, homes, car payments and everything else.”