Voice of America, the government-funded source of worldwide distribution of news about America, has a feature up on the expansion of gun-carrying teachers in Arkansas public schools.
The anecdotal lead and photo feature Dale Creswell, a coach in Heber Springs.
“It was a no-brainer. I have a daughter still in school,” said Cresswell of his decision, acknowledging that he might know any potential shooter. “I see it as, I’m protecting more than one person. I’m protecting all the other students.”
In order to qualify, Cresswell and other faculty, including administrators and IT professionals who can move around more easily, underwent background checks and psychological tests. They continue to go through rigorous training.
“I know that last summer there was a big movement here. We were fortunate that we had made the decision early, and we were able to secure trainers and get our time slot locked in,” said Heber Springs School District Superintendent Alan Stauffacher, noting that some other schools are “struggling” to get set up.
A semester in, the novelty of Cresswell carrying a weapon has worn off. He said that when asked, the students tell him they don’t even notice his gun anymore.
The article does take note of resistance to the idea of arming teachers.
Following the Safety Commission report, Moms Demand Action stated that “putting guns in the hands of teachers is not the answer…” and that “research indicates that arming teachers will make children less safe.”
“As a general rule, I don’t think anyone believes that it is preventative. I think that most thoughtful individuals know that if a person sets out to do harm to themselves or someone else, they’re not gonna stop and think ‘Oh, there might be someone armed,’” said Cathy Koehler, president of the Arkansas Education Association.
Koehler stopped short of saying that faculty shouldn’t be armed, recognizing that it can take 20 minutes for police in some rural counties to respond to a situation. She stressed that schools should gain community buy-in, which superintendents in both Clarksville and Heber Springs said they did.
“Our preference is always going to be that the investment is made in the mental health services that are so desperately needed and are underfunded,” Koehler said.
The reporter also talked with the superintendent of the Westside School District, where children lying in ambush outside the school in 1998 killed five after a false fire alarm emptied the building.
“Just about every time we hear of another shooting, we look at how that took place. How would we have combated that? Could we fix that?” Gauntt asked.
Over the years, the school has installed dozens of surveillance cameras and stronger classroom locks. Teachers undergo survival training to apply a tourniquet, for example, in order to prevent kids from bleeding out from bullet wounds. Students as young as those in elementary school are taught to be a “partner in [their] own survival.” Instead of hiding quietly under their desks, they are now taught to make loud noises and throw things.
“It’s mind boggling that I’ve gotta go down and tell a kindergartener that if a man comes in and tries to shoot you, that you need to run around and scream,” Gauntt said. “That’s not why I got into education.”
When it comes to arming teachers inside the classroom, he’s reluctant to take a hard stance but admits that he worries about guns getting loose.
Ultimately, most parties agree that despite all precautions, a motivated shooter will find a way to do harm.
“School safety is an illusion,” Gauntt said.