IN THE WORKS
Several Tennessee legislators are tackling school safety with bills of their own:
• State Rep. Terri Lynn Weaver, R-Lancaster, has a proposal similar to Watson's -- teachers with carry permits could bring guns to school if they have special training and load frangible bullets.
• State Sen. Frank Niceley, R-Knoxville, has drafted a bill requiring districts to assign at least one armed officer to every school or to allow teachers to go armed.
• State Sen. Stacey Campfield, R-Knoxville, said he plans to propose three options for schools -- having trained student resource officers on campus; train faculty with carry permits, and require the school system to assume liability of its students.
Source: The Tennessean
Though legislators are clamoring to propose bills that will arm teachers or staff in schools in the wake of the Newtown, Conn., shooting, many are concerned that simply arming teachers will not be enough and more comprehensive steps must be taken.
Right now, there are at least four bills being floated through the Tennessee Legislature, including one by Rep. Eric Watson, R-Cleveland, that would allow teachers to be armed in classrooms across the state.
On Dec. 14, gunman Adam Lanza forced his way into Sandy Hook Elementary School in Newtown, killing 20 children and six adults before taking his own life.
Watson, chairman of the House Judiciary Committee, introduced his bill Friday, and he held a news conference Monday at Bradley Central High School to address questions and soothe concerns over the bill, but left many questions unanswered.
"Who will police the teachers? What would happen if one of the teachers with these guns went crazy?" said Larry Cotton, a physical education teacher at Bradley Central High School. "What if a burly student attacks a teacher and gets control of the gun?"
Though Watson's bill would allow faculty and/or staff to carry concealed weapons on campuses as long as the faculty member meets certain requirements, including completion of a 40-hour school policing course, it does not specifically address mental health.
Mike Scourby, reading specialist at Bradley Central High School, mirrored Cotton's concerns, adding that parents could feel threatened that teachers are armed, and they could arm their children.
And really, there are other things legislators should be focused on besides arming teachers, Scourby said.
"The reality is a teacher with a hand gun is not going to do anything," he said. "We're just putting a little Band-Aid over one giant wound. The bill's a bureaucratic jerk reaction instead of looking at the causality."
Laws preventing closing some of the loopholes in gun sales or preventing the sale of guns with large magazines could do more to prevent school shootings than arming teachers, Scourby said.
Still, the idea of arming certain teachers is appealing to many.
Some feel a bill like this could be the jumping-off point for more comprehensive school safety and mental health reforms.
J.C. Bowman, executive director of Professional Educators of Tennessee, said half the teachers he spoke to were in favor of having some armed teachers, but arming teachers should be only one part of legislative efforts to improve both safety and mental health care in schools.
"We feel like there's a lot of things that have to happen," Bowman said. "We didn't get into this situation overnight -- we're not going to resolve it overnight. We do think this is a positive step forward."
Some of those things, including more guidance counselors and safety training for all teachers, eventually could be integrated into the bill, and Watson said he was open to any and all ideas.
Cotton also isn't against the bill, adding that though he wouldn't want to be armed, he wouldn't mind having extra protection on the school grounds.
Read a related story
TEA backs resource officers in all schools
In the wake of the Sandy Hook Elementary School shooting, some legislators are talking of introducing legislation to allow teachers to carry guns in Tennessee schools. The Tennessee Education Association believes:
"Notwithstanding the Sandy Hook tragedy, schools are still among the safest places children can be. As caring adults, we can and must do all we can to ensure all children have safe learning environments. At the same time, we should not rush to take extreme action without careful study of what actually improves school safety.
"Educators want and need continued training to help them spot potential mental health needs, bullying and high-risk behaviors. They should be trained in crisis management.
"In addition, every school should have school safety procedures that are widely understood by staff and students and regularly practiced.
"Students deserve to have access to specialized school personnel who are trained and available to support their behavioral, social and emotional needs. Too often, school counselors are assigned to handle student scheduling and testing coordination duties, leaving them little time for counseling the students who need them.
"Every school - elementary, middle and high school -- should have a specially trained School Resource Officer. Today, many middle and high schools have such SROs, but elementary schools often do not."
Source: TEA website
Bradley Central Assistant Principal Greg Geren said that, although his school has a resource officer, she often is called to court, leaving the 1,700-person school building without any police presence. The school has a security guard at the entrance gate.
Geren recalled a specific time when the resource officer was gone and a man bypassed the security guard, entering the school in order to see his niece and nephew during last spring's tornadoes. Though police eventually arrived to remove the man from the grounds, there was little Geren could do to prevent him from wandering the hallways.
"What happened a few weeks ago has really made you look more closely at what can happen," said Todd Shoemaker, principal at Bradley Central High School. "Sandy Hook Elementary was doing a lot of things right - they had security, they had doors that were locked - and the incident still took place. In my mind, if they did have a faculty member that was armed at that time, what could have happened? Could've they stopped that incident from taking place?"
Johnny McDaniel, Bradley County Schools superintendent, said that the tragedy of Sandy Hook was that no one there had any chance to protect the school -- something he doesn't want to see replicated in Tennessee.
"What we're talking about here is having people that would have a fighting chance," he said.
The overwhelming feeling for school administrators and legislators is there is a strong desire for something to be done. Watson previously said that nearly 60 teachers came to him requesting some sort of action.
"Politicians can no longer be allowed to stand by and watch this action take place on our grounds," Watson said. "We must protect our children. Parents will no longer tolerate inaction from our politicians."
Though there is still plenty of room for debate, Watson is confident some sort of action will be taken soon.
"Someone's bill will pass [this session]," he said.