As the nation reels from another school shooting, the debate over arming teachers has resurfaced this week. Teachers in local schools, however, have been legally allowed to carry a concealed firearm in the classroom since 2003.
Kirk McRae, human resources director for Cache County School District, said a state law passed 15 years ago made it clear that school districts, universities and other governmental agencies in Utah cannot prohibit lawful, concealed-carry permit holders from carrying a firearm.
According to the CCSD concealed firearm policy, teachers who choose to carry a weapon do so in their “individual capacities,” meaning it is outside the scope of their employment. McRae said that means if a staff member chooses to use their firearm, even in defense of themselves or others, they would be responsible for any liability. The same goes for any accidents or misfires.
Additionally, teachers who choose to carry firearms in school are required to keep their firearm concealed at all times and may not use school district property, such as a desk drawer, to store the firearm.
McRae said the school district does not require teachers to tell their building administrators if they are carrying a firearm. It’s dealt with on a don’t-ask, don’t-tell basis for the most part.
“We don’t encourage it; we don’t discourage it; we just totally recognize our employees’ rights to carry if they choose to do so,” McRae said.
Sky View High Principal Mike Monson said he doesn’t seek out information on which teachers at his school are carrying, but he occasionally finds out through conversation.
“I don’t specifically go out and ask people to tell me, because they aren’t required to,” Monson said.
Matt Bilodeau, chief deputy for the Cache County Sheriff’s Office, said keeping that information “close to the vest” is helpful. If would-be active shooters don’t know how many staff members are armed, they might think twice about committing a heinous crime.
“I think it’s huge,” Bilodeau said.
Similarly, Bilodeau did not want to disclose the nature of active shooter training at the Sheriff’s Office or how many schools have armed resource officers on site.
“It’s tactical,” he said.
Logan City School District has a similar concealed carry policy compared to CCSD, but Superintendent Frank Schofield said principals in Logan schools prefer to know who is armed.
“They have to have it on their person, it needs to be something that remains concealed so it can’t be something that’s brandished or shown to students or anything like that, and we do ask — it’s preferred that the principal know about it,” Schofield said.
He said it’s not a perfect system, but based on his discussions with law enforcement, police would prefer to know who is armed during the nightmare scenario of an active shooter. But that information would not be advertised or shared beyond the teacher, the administrator and law enforcement, if they are called out for an emergency.
In general, Schofield said he isn’t sure if arming teachers would make schools safer. He said more guns could deter violent crime, but the presence of firearms could also create more conflict or lead to accidents. In 2014 the firearm of a teacher in Granite School District accidentally discharged in a school restroom, breaking a toilet and injuring her.
After years of working in schools, Schofield said every teacher and principal around the country feels the pain of every school shooting. He was an elementary school principal at the time of the shooting at Sandy Hook Elementary School. It took place on the same day they had planned their faculty Christmas social. He said it didn’t feel right to throw a party.
“You talk with the teachers about what they would do with their class,” Schofield said. “And you start thinking about students.”
At this point, Schofield said he wants to see the state and federal government take some action — any action.
If legislators want to turn schools from soft targets into hard targets, he said, they should provide schools with funding and training. If they want to make smaller class sizes so teachers can build closer relationships with students, he said that would be fine. If they want to provide better mental health services by hiring more counselors and social workers, then they should get it done, Schofield said.
“At this point with the number of shootings that we’ve had in my time as an educator, I just want the government to let us do something,” Schofield said. “I want them to take action.”
He said teachers are responsible for the physical safety, emotional wellbeing and academic learning of their students, and principals are responsible for each of their students and teachers. That’s a big load to carry, he said, when educators feel they don’t have any tools or resources to prevent tragedies from happening.
“That, I think, is what’s incredibly frustrating in these school shootings for educators, is we don’t see people in positions of authority willing to take a stand and take action,” Schofield said.
There are hand-wringing, tears and condolences, but no action. He said he hopes the latest event pushes someone to do something.
“If we don’t act in some way, nothing is going to change,” Schofield said.