Opinions about arming teachers are mixed.
Most of the people who spoke at an April 25 meeting at Grant Union Junior-Senior High School to take input on school safety were in opposition to arming teachers, but the majority of those who took a survey at the meeting were in favor.
About 50 parents and staff attended the meeting, and 26 people spoke to the school board. Some didn’t take a position on arming teachers but instead asked questions or made suggestions. Four spoke directly in favor of arming teachers, and 13 spoke in opposition.
According to an interactive survey held during the meeting using smartphones, about 43 percent supported arming school staff, while 30 percent were opposed and 25 percent were unsure.
A preliminary survey of students showed about 68 percent of the 215 Grant Union students responding supported arming school staff, and about 86 percent of the 58 Humbolt and Seneca sixth-grade students responding said they supported arming school staff.
Concerned about school shootings across the U.S., Grant School District 3 is considering a wide range of measures to increase safety at Grant Union, Humbolt Elementary and Seneca School, from restricting access to hiring a school resource officer or arming teachers and staff.
Larry Maplesden spoke in favor of arming teachers at the meeting. He said the teachers must be willing and trained.
“If someone in the school is armed in an active-shooter situation, you have some kind of stopping power,” he told the Eagle. “A school resource officer might not be in the right place.”
A school aide said she’d feel safer if armed teachers were in the building. She said Humbolt holds lockdown exercises and “we feel like sitting ducks.” A teacher said she’d rather see a child protected than hiding under a chair.
Izee rancher M.T. Anderson noted that a lot of good points had been brought up at the meeting — especially the district’s poll of students and staff. He supported arming teachers if they receive proper training.
“Nobody expects teachers to be bodyguards, just to be there in case of an emergency,” he said.
Darin Toy said he had a 5-year-old in school and was a gun owner, but he was opposed to arming school staff. He said he was concerned about the level of training teachers get for education, let alone for firearms use.
Savanna Randleas, the only student to address the school board, said she didn’t think arming teachers was necessary and wanted the district to take other measures.
“We’re teachers, not law enforcement,” Kris Beal, retired school teacher and principal, said. She also noted that she had concerns about some of the teachers or staff who might volunteer to be armed.
Beal said she wouldn’t want to work in a place where people carried guns, and she expected children would be scared by the sight of guns. School resource officers provided the “best bang for the buck,” she said, and arming teachers would create a culture she didn’t favor.
Cindy Dougharity-Spencer asked how the district would pay for all the training and the safes. She said she had talked to other staff about the matter and felt it would be better to address access and security issues and hiring a school resource officer first.
Kristi Moore, a teacher at Grant Union who once taught in large urban schools, said she was concerned about anyone getting shot in school and wanted the district to take other steps before “jumping to the extreme” of arming school staff.
Full-time teachers already have a big job, and adding the responsibility of firearms training would just increase their workload, Sena Raschio said. She said she was uncomfortable around guns and couldn’t believe they were talking about this. She said hiring a school resource officer would be great.
Ken Olson, a certified firearms instructor, said he hadn’t made up his mind yet about arming school staff. He cautioned the school board to take its time making a decision. A handgun is a bad choice for a weapon, Olson noted.
“You use your pistol to fight your way to your rifle,” he said.
With adrenaline flowing during an active-shooter event, he expected many armed school staff would miss their targets.
School board vice chairman Zach Williams said he wanted people safe, but he also wanted teacher support, should the idea move forward. He said he wanted input from all the staff before making a decision. The idea was “not half-cooked, not even in the oven,” he said, and he was not “hellbound” to make a decision by June.
Superintendent Curt Shelley said the proposal raised numerous questions, concerns and other considerations: insurance costs for the school and insurance availability for individual teachers carrying firearms; hiring a John Day police officer as a school resource officer; allowing concealed-carry or locking firearms in a safe; securing access to schools (Grant Union has 13 doors, he noted); installing alarm systems separate from fire alarm systems; installing more secure fencing or metal detectors; locking doors more regularly; and holding monthly lockdown drills.
Shelley explained, if guns are locked up in school, it would likely be in a thumb-operated safe that could be opened quickly. But teachers might not always be near the safe, he said. They might be with students on the playground, in the cafeteria or in the library.
He noted that attitudes are changing and huddling in a corner doesn’t work — “We need to fight back,” he said.
But concerns exist that a teacher might shoot the wrong person or leave a firearm unattended, he said.
“Are guns helpful or harmful?” he asked, adding that probably both answers are true.
Staff who volunteer to carry a firearm would undergo a background check and regular training, Shelley said. They also would undergo annual mental health evaluations. The matter would be a policy issue decided by the school board, he noted.
Grant School District 3 will further discuss the school safety matter at the May 16 board meeting.