Michigan School District Debates Arming Staff, Teachers

As kids in the Addison Community Schools system return to class from Thanksgiving break, some of their teachers and staff are preparing to become students themselves. The district is debating whether to adopt a policy that would allow employees to volunteer to serve as the first line of defense for students in case of a targeted school attack. Those approved would undergo days of training before they could carry in school buildings, but as the Toledo Blade reports, there’s still a deep divide in the community over the prospect. Superintendent Steve Guerra, for instance, is on board with the program, but several students and faculty members have expressed reservations.

“The board realizes this is a sensitive issue and regardless of the outcome, we want to make sure all avenues have been explored,” Addison School Board President Michael Murphy said. “This is just the first part of the equation. If the board decides to allow the arming of our staff, it doesn’t mean it’s approved on Monday and Tuesday morning the staff is armed.”

Board members have been gathering input from teachers, principals, and other school staff following a forum in September that suggested the community was deeply divided on the issue (one ninth-grader who attended said if her teachers were armed she would “fear for her life”). They’ve also asked Mr. Guerra to reach out to neighboring townships about possibly chipping in for a $100,000-a-year school resource officer, a position the district can’t afford on its own.

Something tells me those neighboring townships aren’t going to be eager to kick in money from their small budgets to help pay for a school resource officer, but teachers in the Addison Community Schools might be just as reluctant to volunteer.

“I’m for it,” said Mark Beougher, a 43-year-old chemistry and physics instructor. “I would just never want to be that person. It’s too much responsibility.”

Mr. Beougher once had to restrain a student for 35 minutes during a violent outburst until police arrived.

“That’s a long time,” he said. “We’ve had a couple of incidents where it’s taken upwards of half an hour for police officers to show up if we had a bad fight.”

“But it’s not like it happens very often,” he added. “That’s why it’s hard for us to justify having an armed officer.”

Jessica McNett, a 38-year-old who teaches special education, is one of eight Addison teacher with a concealed-carry license, but she said she isn’t prepared to put it to use at her job.

“I don’t know if put in that situation I could be the one to do something,” said Ms. McNett, who graduated from Addison High School the year two gunmen murdered 13 people at Columbine High School. “I got it for protection, obviously. I don’t feel like I have enough training to come in with it tomorrow.”

It’s possible that if the district did approve training and arming some staff, they wouldn’t find enough volunteers to implement the program, but I would be surprised if that turned out to be the case. I’ve been covering this issue for several years now, and I’m not aware of a single school district that adopted armed school staff but couldn’t implement the program because of a lack of interest on the part of educators.

I wish Superintendent Guerra all the best in his attempts to put this program in place, and we’ll continue to keep an eye on this district and others around the country that are weighing whether or not to arm staff to protect students.