Education officials disagree with NRA's school safety plan
CHARLESTON, W.Va. - A National Rifle Association-backed task force released its plan to keep the nation's schools safe Tuesday -- including a proposal for arming school employees or adding armed guards to schools.
Other proposals include increasing building safety and beefing up mental health services in the name of "threat assessment." But the report emphasizes that those factors are not adequate on their own -- adding firearms to schools, it says, is integral to school safety.
That proposal drew sharp criticism from some people in the education community, on a national and state level.
Christine Campbell, president-elect of the West Virginia chapter of the American Federation of Teachers, echoed the statement from the national group, saying that the call for armed guards in schools serves only to distract from the issues at the heart of school violence.
"The focus needs to be more on the community solutions," she said. "We need to have discussions within the community on where they feel like they could build awareness of safety."
Some West Virginia schools still don't have secure entrances, though that is changing -- over the past several years about $30 million has been distributed to local school districts to make school access safer.
"Before we go moving in this kind of heightened direction, we need to make sure that the things that are already in place in a lot of schools are in place in all schools," Campbell said.
In Kanawha County, police officers regularly visit schools. Each "resource officer" is employed by the Sheriff's Office and receives additional training specific to his or her role in schools. There are three school resource officers in Kanawha County: one spends all of his time at Riverside High School while two more rotate among the county's other schools.
Those officers are armed, but Capt. Sean Crosier, who is in charge of the program, said there's a difference between an armed educator and a police officer with a firearm.
"During a violent episode, especially involving firearms, I do believe that only armed and trained personnel should intervene," he said.
That doesn't necessarily mean that an educator or security guard couldn't be well equipped to handle such a conflict -- it depends on their training. But he is sure that deputies are trained to deal with a violent situation in a school.
"I will say that over and above any plan, police officers with lawful authority and necessary and proper training are certainly going to be the best way to go," he said.
Bev Jarrett, director of safety for Kanawha County Schools, said that in all the controversy after the tragedy at Sandy Hook Elementary School in December, county officials just doubled down on initiatives already in place.
The police presence in Kanawha County schools is helpful, she said, though it's more about having a police presence than about standing guard at each school.
"They're not just in and out," Jarrett said. "It's about allowing them to get to know students and have their presence known."
Contact writer Shay Maunz at firstname.lastname@example.org or 304-348-4886.