Trump proposal to arm teachers gets mixed local reaction

Most districts focused on mental health, school safety

The Associated Press Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School bus driver Pearlie Corker, gets a hug at the school as some teachers return for the first time since the shooting Friday in Parkland, Florida. Corker arrived at the school as Nikolas Cruz began to shoot students and teachers on Feb. 14, she stayed on the bus in front of the school praying for the students and teachers.

Local reactions have been mixed to President Donald Trump’s proposal this week to train and arm teachers to respond to active shooter situations in the schools.

Some area school districts and local law enforcement officials hedged their responses, while several came out in opposition.

The president offered the suggestion Wednesday, a week after 17 people were fatally shot by a former student with an AR-15 assault rifle at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School in Parkland, Florida.

Trump said a teacher adept at firearms “could very well end the attack very quickly.” He followed that up with a tweet Thursday that “highly trained teachers would act as a deterrent to the cowards that do this.”

Clintonville School District Superintendent David Dyb said he was more focused on state-funding for security guards and other more localized solutions than the federal government might offer.

“The further you get away from local conditions, you lose knowing what goes on in the schools,” he said. “There’s no strong understanding, just a knee-jerk policy response.”

Dyb called arming teachers “a reactive response,” while the district prefers to focus on proactive measures like detecting the early warning signs of mental health issues among students.

Garrett Rogowski, superintendent of the Wittenberg-Birnamwood School District, opposed the idea of arming teachers.

“I would not support that as being good practice,” he said.

As educators, he said, “we’re responsible for an awful lot. Adding that is something better left to professionals.”

Bonduel School District Superintendent Patrick Rau called the idea of arming teachers a “reactive solution.”

“It is an ill attempt to solve a problem after it has begun and it ignores the fact those who commit such heinous acts of violence have come to grips that they will die or be harmed during the act before they even begin,” he said.

Bowler School District Superintendent Randy Refsland was blunt in his assessment of the president’s proposal.

“Absolute nonsense,” he said. “Plain and simple, absolute nonsense.”

Refsland said hundreds, if not thousands of students could be caught in the crossfire in the chaos of an active shooter situation.

As an alternative, Refsland said, “maybe some gun control would be helpful.”

The idea of arming teachers aside, all area school districts that responded to this inquiry preferred to focus on mental health issues and school security.

“Efforts to make our schools and communities safe must focus on the mental health issues facing families and children,” Rau said. “People resorting to harming oneself or others has become an epidemic. Yet the resources available for schools and communities to address mental health concerns remain far too inadequate.”

Rau said the Parkland shooting has brought a heightened awareness to safety measures the district has in place.

“Our safety begins with building relationships with the children and their families,” he said. “These relationships are used to address issues, to teach empathy, and build trust that leads to effective communication. It takes the school, families, students, and community to provide a safe environment.”

At the Clintonville School District, “mental health is a huge priority,” Dyb said, including detecting early warning signs that a student may be troubled.

“Our focus is to be proactive and mental health is a critical issue,” he said.

Also important, he said, are safety and security measures, including active shooter training for staff.

Discussions with staff have included protocols for responding to an active shooter situation, whether that includes barricading the doors and sheltering in place or having a safe line of escape.

The idea of arming teachers was never brought up by staff members.

“It wasn’t a point of discussion,” Dyb said.

Rogowski said the focus at Wittenberg-Birnamwood has also been on addressing mental health issues and ensuring safety. That has included “intruder drills” and training offered by the Shawano County Sheriff’s Department, such as the ALICE (Alert, Lockdown, Inform, Counter, Evacuate) program.

Rogowski said school buildings also have controlled access and utilizes school liaison officers when necessary.

He added that a future building referendum could tighten some of those security measures by limiting access to visitors who would have to pass through the school office before they could enter the facility.

Refsland said things are probably no different in the Bowler School District than in others, with security measures that include all doors being locked and visitors having to be buzzed in.

He said the district also has drills in place to respond to an active shooter situation, just as it has fire drills.

Local law enforcement was more equivocal when it came to the idea of arming teachers.

“I believe arming teachers is a decision that should be left to our schools and our legislators,” said Shawano Police Chief Dan Mauel.

He said police would not respond any differently to an active shooter situation knowing that teachers were also armed.

“Our mission in an active shooter situation is to enter immediately, locate and stop the threat,” Mauel said. “During an active shooter event, any action by civilians is better than no action — whether that be to escape, impede or fight. The goal is to deter the actor until law enforcement arrives.”

Shawano County Sheriff Adam Bieber released the following statement in response to questions about the president’s proposal and school safety, which he requested not be edited by the Leader:

“A school shooting is a communities (sic) worst nightmare. The Sheriff’s Office has taken proactive steps in the past 2 years to train and prepare school staff for such an event. In talking with school officials and our staff we feel ready and properly trained for such an attack, however we all agree more can and should be done to prevent an active shooter situation from happening.

“We continue to train our school personnel and other organizations in ALICE.

“We have also taken additional steps in the past two years to make sure our Deputies are close to schools in case of an emergency.

“While I support the idea of properly trained teachers who would conceal carry while at work, I do not believe solely arming teachers is the only solution to deter or prevent school shootings.

“It is incumbent upon school officials, law enforcement, and taxpayers to pay for the changes needed in school security and in my opinion changes which should be required to prevent such an attack. Our goal should be nobody enters our schools with a weapon. To accomplish our goal we need security minded people and funding.

“I support the ‘safe school initiative,’ which would allow schools to exceed the levy limit to fund security improvements.

“The goal is to prevent attacks from happening within our schools and to be proactive not reactive.”