Local school officials aren’t exactly enthusiastic about President Donald Trump’s proposal to arm “highly trained teachers” to stop mass school shootings.
“I think it’s a really bad idea to add more firearms to the situation,” said West Salem School District Superintendent Troy Gunderson. “It’s complete crazy talk.”
Trump made his comments in the wake of the mass school shooting at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School in Parkland, Florida, that left 14 students and three school employees dead.
Wisconsin Attorney General Brad Schimel has also said he’s open to the idea of arming teachers and several state Republican lawmakers have indicated a willingness to consider the proposal. But Gunderson is not impressed by the push to arm teachers.
The idea that teachers should be armed and ready to deal with a shooter devalues the work of police officers who receive years of specialized training, Gunderson added.
“The cynic in me says this is about the gun industry thinking they can make money by producing a gun model for teachers,” he said. “How about we get to the solution where we make guns less available and get better at identifying the people that are a risk for doing something like this.”
The general debate around increasing security measures at school saddens Gunderson, who wants schools to be community centers where all are welcome.
“It breaks my heart that we’re talking about metal detectors and security instead of serving children in poverty and discussing strategies to help children read,” he said.
Expecting teachers to have to think about taking out a shooter in addition to the many other responsibilities they already shoulder is a big ask, said Bangor School District superintendent Dave Laehn.
“I think there’s a tremendous amount on teachers’ plates to start with,” he said. “To put this on them is something that needs a lot more discussion before being considered.”
Like Gunderson, Laehn wasn’t enthusiastic about adding more guns to the equation.
“I believe that our schools should be a safe place and just the idea of arming teachers and administrators goes against that whole philosophy,” he said.
State Rep. Jesse Kremer, R-Kewaskum, proposed a bill to allow weapons in private schools that want them as a pilot project. It could be expanded to public schools if it proves worthwhile, he said.
Ted Knutson, president of Aquinas Catholic Schools in La Crosse and Onalaska, said he doesn’t want guns on the campuses, although he stressed that is his opinion and not a formal position of the system’s board.
“I am not in favor of guns in schools,” Knutson said during an interview Wednesday. “I would not have a problem with a greater presence of law enforcement in schools.”
Although Aquinas High and Middle schools and the elementary schools in the system do not have police officers on campus, as many public schools do, city police officers present programs in the schools, and neighborhood resource officers check in periodically, he said.
“These are tough times, and doing nothing is not the strategy to use,” Knutson said.
If a bill passed providing the option, and it didn’t cost the schools additional money, “then we’d have to have that discussion,” said Fran Finco, superintendent of the Onalaska School District.
Any such talks would have to include not only the school board but the entire community, Finco said.
“What does that mean? Put somebody with a gun at every door?” he said.
Access during regular school hours already is restricted to those who have an entry fob or are buzzed in, he said.
“Another thing that people probably don’t think about is that the locks come off after school,” Finco said. “Where’s the security for intramural programs” and other after- and before-school programs?
“The unfortunate thing is why is it a societal problem that schools have to fix?” he said.
Lalisha Olson, Holmen school district’s student services coordinator, said the district wanted to concentrate on letting teachers do what they’re trained to do.
“We really want our teachers to focus on teaching,” she said. “They are trained to be educators and we want to maintain our focus on that.”