In the wake of the tragic Sandy Hook school shooting that left 20 children and six adults dead, educators and lawmakers are looking for ways to ensure schools are safe.
Legislators in several states, including California, have proposed laws that would allow teachers to carry guns on campus. The Obama administration has proposed spending $150 million to pay for armed guards, counselors, and psychologists in schools around the nation.
With an open campus that backs onto the wooded American River Parkway, keeping Rio Americano safe presents special challenges.
“We do the best we can with the resources we have, which include campus monitors, administrators, and cameras,” Principal Brian Ginter said.
“We can do a better job surrounding the campus to keep it closed. Arden put up a fence around the entire school. Nothing is going to be foolproof.”
An informal Mirada survey of teachers found that 82 percent agree or strongly agree that Rio is a safe campus, a number that reflects past surveys of the students.
“I would say that given our geography, we’re vulnerable,” science teacher Tobias Spencer said. “Anyone can drive up, but our staff and students are conscientious and look out for each other. I feel safe with the staff I work with.”
Armed Guards on Campus
28 percent of teachers said that they believe it would be reasonable to have an armed police officer on campus at all times while 69 percent disagree and 3 percent are unsure. Principal Brian Ginter said it would be reasonable.
“The experience I’ve had with armed officers on campus has been positive,” Ginter said. “At both schools I’ve worked at in Pennsylvania, there was a police substation in the schools and an armed officer there all day and in the evening when there was an event going on. I think it’s reasonable.”
Ginter said that there would be benefits to having an armed officer on campus.
“In Pennsylvania, we used the school resource officer to strengthen our academic programs such as driver’s education,” he said. “They worked with our social studies department to explain laws and law enforcement. They developed a good relationship with the community and it changed the way people saw the police. In a dangerous situation, you have someone who you know is in charge from the get go. Principals aren’t trained.”
Nevertheless, he sees the drawbacks of the idea.
“The detriment is that you have a weapon on campus,” Ginter said. “When there’s a weapon on campus there’s always the possibility something is going to happen.”
Amanda Wilcox of the Sacramento chapter of the Brady Campaign to Prevent Gun Violence said that she has no problem with armed officers on campuses, but emphasized that she thinks it wouldn’t be a ‘be-all-end-all’ solution.
“I have no problem with having an armed police officer at a school, particularly at a high school,” she said. “A large number of schools already have police on campus. Compared to the public, law enforcement officers are trained to access situations, make quick decisions, and use their firearms properly. Nonetheless, the two security officers at Columbine and the Police Force at Virginia Tech were unable to stop the shootings. At Columbine, they missed their target.”
While the NRA proposed that the United States Congress put police officers in every school, Wilcox thinks these kinds of decisions should be left to local government. “Keep in mind that a police officer at every school in California would cost a lot of money and the state has suffered severe cuts to education in the past few years. Nationally, it would cost a huge amount of money. I do not believe that armed police or resource officers should be mandated. It should be up to each school district. I am on the Board of a small, rural Elementary School District and we do not consider an armed police officer on campus to be necessary.”
Another proposed reaction to Sandy Hook is to arm teachers and administrators. In 2008, the Harrold School District in northwest Texas became the first to allow teachers to carry concealed weapons.
In California, the Fontana Unified School District purchased 14 AR-15’s in the aftermath of the Aurora, Colorado movie theater shooting last summer.
Republican state lawmakers have proposed allowing teachers to be armed on campus. “The idea is to create essentially an invisible line of defense around our kids,” Assemblyman Tim Donnelly said. Donnelly introduced AB202, which would allow educators to carry firearms and would keep their names private.
When it comes to armed teachers and administrators, Principal Ginter is not supportive. “I don’t think anyone except a trained officer should have a weapon on campus,” Ginter said. “If I found out a teacher was carrying a concealed weapon, I would report that to human resources.”
Sharing Ginter’s concern is Amanda Wilcox of the Brady Campaign. “I do not support teachers carrying a concealed weapon on campus,” Wilcox said. “As I said earlier, law enforcement personnel are highly trained and repeatedly trained. I do not trust the public, including CCW holders to make good split-second decisions, particularly when they are in an extremely stressful situation. The decision to shoot or not-to-shoot is even difficult for law enforcement. When two people are armed and exchanging fire, how do the police know who the “good guy” is (think of the Aurora shooting)? Teachers need to focus on teaching. Although the Newtown shooting was horrific, schools are still statistically very safe places with little gun violence.”
According to Trent Allen, the Senior Director of Community Relations for the San Juan Unified School District, there was a teacher in the district who wanted to carry a concealed weapon on campus and was denied his request. Allen declined to name the specific teacher or school.
“Board Policy 1250 prohibits weapons and other dangerous items on school campuses. This would include concealed weapons regardless of whether the individual has a permit for the weapon. Therefore, any request to carry a weapon on campus would be denied,” Allen said. “Since the tragedy in Connecticut, I am unaware of any requests by teachers to carry a weapon on campus. I am only aware of one such request prior to that time and there was not a specific reason stated. The request was denied pursuant to Board Policy 1250.” 17 percent of teachers said that they believe it would be reasonable to arm some teachers and administrators on campus while 83 percent disagree.
One teacher who thinks it would be reasonable is John Agostinelli. “Engagement is the key in active shooter situations,” Agostinelli said. “Law enforcement agencies across the country have studied how to deal with active shooters. The lessons have given way to the idea of rapid engagement of the active shooter. The most important concept is to get someone to engage the shooter as quickly as possible. Having a number of teachers on campus who could engage the shooter could help quickly contain the perpetrator. The police response time here in Sacramento for the first officer to arrive would probably be less than 5 minutes after they received the 911 calls.”
Agostinelli is opposed to having armed police on campuses for several seasons. “If you have one officer at every school, it would make sense that the active shooter would just target them first,” he said. “The cost of this would be staggering. Just to put an officer at every San Juan Unified school site would more than double the amount of officers that patrol the county at any one time. Think about that for a minute. We would need to double the police force just so half of them could sit at a school waiting for the minute chance that someone goes crazy and starts shooting up a school.”
Disagreeing is English and Avid teacher Jolynn Mason. “I’m not in favor of that,” Mason said. “I don’t think there’s a place for it. If a teacher is armed, even though they’re trained, who’s going to say there aren’t going to be mishaps and they’ll remain calm? Even the most trained police officers who face this every day have shot innocent people in the heat of the moment.”
Ginter himself faced a situation in Pennsylvania when a student came to school with a gun.
“A student reported that he had seen a student on the bus with a gun,” Ginter said. “I went to the students classroom, asked if I could borrow the student, and asked him to step outside. I then asked if he had a gun, the expression on his face gave it away, and he admitted that he did. I asked him where and he told me it was in his locker. So then I had the hallway containing his locker blocked off and had him stand about 10 feet away while I opened it. We found a handgun and at that point we confiscated it and dealt with the student accordingly.”