In preparation for a new school year, school officials are considering allowing teachers to be armed to increase school safety. Educators and sheriffs across Wisconsin find this issue to be more complex than expected. Adequate training in the use of firearms is a minor issue compared to legal and psychological consequences teachers may face should they take a life.
Some school districts are erecting signs that read, “Staff is armed and trained”. Sheriff Chris Fitzgerald of Barron County, Wisconsin, agrees that the sign carries the “same psychological deterrent that home security signs carry, but educators need to be worried about more than discouraging a shooting.”
Sheriff Fitzgerald explains that teachers and those who provide weapons training to a teacher may be named in a lawsuit should a shooting occur. “Law Enforcement departments are sometimes named in lawsuits in spite of their education and training. Educators could also face scrutiny if they assume responsibility for protecting their schools.”
“While police are prepared to take a life, doing so is traumatic,” explained Sherriff Fitzgerald who recommends that teachers consider whether they can psychologically handle firing a gun to take a life.
If educators believe that they can assume these responsibilities, Fitzgerald suggests that they encourage legislators to enhance Good Samaritan Laws to provide a “good faith” exemption so teachers and school districts will not be held liable if a fatality or a mistake occur under the stress of the situation.
Police and educators have learned a lot from school shooting incidents since Columbine. According to Fitzgerald, police would call the SWAT team, set a perimeter, and wait for SWAT while aiding wounded students who were visible and accessible. Now, he explains, law enforcement is cross trained with SWAT tactics; a single officer may enter a building, step over the wounded, and find the source of the shooting.
The Unified School District of Antigo, Wisconsin, which includes 2,547 students, provides one armed, full-time Liaison Officer also known as a School Resource Officer. The SRO patrols all schools within the district on a random pattern. Clark Palmer, Antigo school board member and chair of the Committee on Instruction, explained that the Board agreed to spend an estimated $75,000 to improve building security by installing secure doors with panic bars, security cameras, hallway isolation doors, and locking vestibules. Mr. Palmer stated, “Teachers and our SRO are committed to the safety of our students. However, there is an advantage to having many armed and trained staff to protect students.”
Palmer acknowledged that many teachers have extensive military backgrounds and/or are well trained and suited to work with the SRO to become an effective force to limit loss of life. Since the Newtown shootings, schools are also improving lock-down procedures. Classroom doors are easier to lock quickly; cameras, security doors, and bullet-proof glass are popular options. Districts across the United States are investing thousands of dollars to make school buildings more secure, although the cost of the SRO can be prohibitive for many districts.