Every child in America has the right to learn free from the threat of violence. The tragedy in Parkland has, once again, put that right under siege. Horrific and senseless killings have become a pattern in our country and many of our children no longer feel safe in their schools. This violence and its toll on our schools and communities can’t continue. At this moment, the country’s leaders must listen to the Stoneman Douglas High School students, educators, and other young people across the country, who are making their voices heard on the issues of gun violence and school safety. We must also take collective action to put in place policies and preventative measures to ensure that not a single school shooting happens ever again.
Arming Teachers is Not a Solution
As is so often the case when dealing with critical challenges facing America’s schools, we turned to our network of educators to gauge where they stand on gun violence and school safety issues. An overwhelming majority of Teach Plus teachers—83 percent—believe that the solution does not lie in arming our teachers. As Chicago teacher and Teach Plus alumna Gina Caneva wrote in an op-ed in U.S. News & World Report, “All this solution would do is answer gun violence with more gun violence, with the additional possibility of dangerous unintended consequences.”
Teach Plus teachers tell us emphatically that caring for their students and creating safe and supportive environments in their classrooms shouldn’t mean that they have to arm themselves. One of the survey respondents put it this way: “As a Marine and a teacher the amount of training necessary to appropriately arm a teacher/educator would be immense, such that, to do it properly would detract significantly from their job. In fact, you cannot do both at the same time.”
Enact Commonsense Gun Control Measures
A better answer is to advocate for laws and policies that will make a difference. These policies need to include expanded background checks, a ban on assault weapons, and doing more to fully and robustly enforce laws that currently exist. In our poll of 1,233 Teach Plus teachers nationwide, 94 percent said they want to strengthen background checks for purchasing weapons, and 80 percent said they want to ban assault rifles.
When it Comes to School Safety, Listen to Students and Teachers
Teach Plus is concerned that proposals to militarize our schools will have the opposite effect of promoting students’ safety and well-being. Building a stronger school security apparatus in our schools might further exacerbate the school-to-prison pipeline.
Teach Plus teachers believe that at this moment we should avoid doubling down on school security response and police presence in our schools, and instead invest further in safe and supportive school climates that promote students’ well-being. We need to ensure that schools have counselors, psychologists, and other mental health professionals on staff. Meaningful steps to rethink school discipline, limit zero-tolerance and exclusionary patterns and practices, and emphasize restorative justice, social emotional learning, and positive behaviors are a better response for our students. One Teach Plus teacher from our survey put it this way: “Having more guns in schools is not the answer. Providing ample resources for people with mental health problems, both in and outside of school, is a starting point. Limiting access to guns for people under 25 and with mental health problems is another starting point.”
We must follow the lead of our students and teachers to make sure Parkland never happens again. We urge lawmakers to listen to their voices, especially the voices of those affected by school violence. The safety of our children is of paramount concern. We must all come together around that goal.