Teachers should teach, not be police

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The Sandy Hook massacre inside an elementary school has shocked us all. While we want everyone to be safe, we expect our youngest to be so inside their own school.

My children attend Clayton School District, one of the wealthier districts in St. Louis County. Like many local districts, it already has police officers at the high school and middle school. On Monday when I went to pick up my youngest, I saw a different police officer at the elementary school. I was a bit taken aback but assumed he was there to help parents feel more secure in the first few days after the Connecticut shooting. I am hopeful that the district does not spend money to keep police officers or even armed security at the elementary schools long-term as the expense would not be justified.

Other school districts such as Kirkwood and Florissant are considering police officers at elementary schools in their school safety reviews. I believe, however, that time and calm parents will help them spend limited resources wisely.

I do agree that schools should review safety procedures as they have after each school shooting and periodically otherwise. Safety experts learn from each experience. For example, whoever turned on the intercom at Sandy Hook, whether intentionally or not, alerted the teachers to the severity of the problem. These types of details are important to safety plans.

St. Louis County Police Chief Tim Fitch said that each officer costs a district about $50,000 for a nine month contract. (Really a 10-month contract) In order to afford that, the district would need to lay off a teacher at each elementary school. That is not a trade-off I am willing to make.

As an alternative to paying for police officers at the schools, some politicians such as Texas governor, Rick Perry, have advocated arming teachers as a way to make schools safer. On Sunday, Chief Fitch brought the gun control debate squarely to the St. Louis school districts.

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The St. Louis Post-Dispatch followed up with a front-page story discussing Fitch's suggestion and other security possibilities. The local districts did not react with enthusiasm.

Fred Crawford, chief of security for the Parkway School District, said he would favor more police in schools over gun training for school officers.

The districts are right to hesitate. Teachers with guns in the classroom, even in a locked drawer, would bring a whole new set of problems to schools. That gun is more likely to be found and used against the teacher or other students, the teacher is not going to be as experienced as an active police officer, that gun is unlikely to be useful against a prepared killer like Adam Lanza with a bulletproof vest on, the teacher would be spending time helping students to safety, police might mistake teacher for intruder etc. I would not send my kids to school with a teacher carrying a gun or with a gun in a locked drawer in the classroom. If the gun is locked up in the office, I would still feel uncomfortable. Who would have access? Have the parents been notified who has access? Their training? The date and continuation of their training?

In addition, districts hire teachers to teach, not to act as security.

"I'm a former teacher and my daughter teaches currently. I want our teachers to be trained so that we can address the problems of literacy, so that we can improve our education system. Let the public safety people handle these other issues." --Rep. John Larson (D) Conn. on NOW with Alex Dec. 17, 2012

Districts should re-evaluate their safety plans and assess whether to add more security, depending on the local needs, not as an emotional reaction to a horrific situation. They should not, however, ask teachers to become that security force.