Note: Stephen G. Peters is the superintendent of Laurens School District 55 in Laurens, SC and serves on the Board of Directors of the International Literacy Association. Peters’ stance on this issue represents his opinion alone and is not the expressed opinions of his district, board or teachers. His opinions also do not represent those of Education Dive.
The tragic events that occurred at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School in Parkland, FL, on Feb. 14 have energized a long overdue movement toward safer schools and a safer society.
Unfortunately, the debate over how to achieve those goals continues. As part of the national dialogue, there has been a great deal of talk about arming teachers to make our students, staff and schools safer.
Arming teachers is far from the answer to ensuring safety and security on our nation’s campuses for more reasons than I could possibly list.
The mere mention of arming teachers in schools speaks to our country’s level of desperation. Our children are our future and we all want the same thing; to keep them safe from harm. The specifics of accomplishing this should be open to fair debate.
However, the answer to stopping gun violence in schools is not arming teachers. That is simply an impulsive response to a very complex issue that will take time to carefully examine. As we process possible solutions, it would be wise to actively involve our teachers and students in the narrative.
- Let’s arm teachers with more support, smaller class sizes, pay commensurate with medical doctors, lawyers and engineers and see what happens in the world of public education. Their work is no less critical or important as you can see. Doctors see one patient at a time, while teachers are asked to teach 30, some 35 students at a time.
- Let’s provide more armed school resource officers (SROs) on our campuses trained to develop positive and respectful relationships with our students and staff.
- Let’s add more resources to design and build schools that offer students and staff more security from the design itself — schools that don’t offer an intruder easy access from multiple points.
- Let’s make sure that decision makers at the table are those who are familiar with the scope of the work of school leaders and teachers.
The most effective way to ensure school safety is to create an environment where all students are comfortable reporting anything unusual to an adult. As part of National Public Schools Week (March 12-16), students all over the nation will be emphasizing the importance of our collective responsibility with a “See Something, Say Something” campaign to encourage communication between students, staff and community. Throughout the week, age-appropriate mini-lessons on school safety that focus on the importance of reporting anything unusual to an adult will take center stage.
I read a piece a few days ago that spoke to the heart of the matter and it made several valid points. The writer talked about the need for our students to take the time to “put their cell phones down and pay more attention to the student sitting alone in the cafeteria during lunch or the classroom disrupter who constantly interrupts the teacher for attention, or the student who feels they would never be cool enough to belong in a certain group.” He argued that students should “walk UP” vs. “walk OUT.” These are the types of solutions that will bring us closer to creating a safe and secure environment in our schools.
As March 14 approaches, I am super proud of our students who have decided instead of walking OUT of school on this designated day and time, they are going to walk UP to 17 people (in honor of the 17 lives lost in Parkland, FL.) and get to know them better. Fourteen will be students and three will be adults. Students all over our country are looking for answers in the best way they can.
As we witness the incredible courage and conviction of the students in Florida in the aftermath of their tragedy, they force us all to arrive at the conclusion that this too, is our tragedy; one that we must face together as a nation. That’s why the International Literacy Association and other organizations are calling for security measures for the nation’s schools that preserve safe learning spaces by keeping the instruments of violence out of them.
We must provide sensible solutions to complicated issues and the best way to accomplish this is through connected conversations and constructive dialogue. Positive relationships developed over time give us the best chance to move from problem to solution. The stakes have never been higher. We must get this right.
The future of our schools and students in them will largely depend upon the choices we make as a society. We must honor the tragic loss of lives in school shootings in our great nation by doing the right thing simply because it’s the right thing to do.