VICE News investigates the under-the-radar arming of America’s teachers

January 10, 2019
Category: Newsletters

Nearly one year ago, the nation was horrified by yet another school shooting, this one in Parkland, Florida, where 17 students and staff were killed and another 17 were injured. Immediately Americans wondered: How can we stop this? One controversial suggestion was that schools start arming teachers.

Turns out, it has been more than just a suggestion. An exclusive, stunning report by Tess Owen of VICE News published this week reveals many schools are arming teachers without anyone knowing.

Owen reports that since the school shootings in Parkland, “scores of American school districts across the country — including many in poor and rural areas — have quietly adopted new policies to arm teachers or school staff.’’  VICE said at least 215 school districts have adopted such policies in the past 11 months and, nationwide, at least 466 districts allow staff to be armed.

The concerning part is that, in many states, the decision to arm teachers or staff often rests with local officials — who are not required to tell anyone.  A spokesperson from Colorado’s Department of Education said, “We don’t keep track; we don’t have to. And they don’t have to tell us.’’

Less than a month after Parkland shootings, VICE published a story  about schools arming teachers.

“In the course of that reporting,’’ Owen said, “I realized that nobody had attempted to track this issue on a local level or quantify the number of districts that had adopted policies to arm teachers.’’

So Owen started digging. She created a spreadsheet. Then Owen and former VICE intern Miranda Livingston started calling every state education department, plus other local associations such as school boards and superintendents, to figure out which schools pursued policies to arm teachers.

“One of the most frustrating aspects of reporting this story ended up a central piece of it,’’ Owen said. “Most of the state education departments and school board associations I spoke to had no idea how many school districts were arming teachers or staff. More often than not, they’d learned of districts anecdotally or through local news reports. … This was a challenge for the reporting process, but also very illuminating as to the complete lack of oversight of these policies. ‘’

The numbers were staggering. Yet, in some cases, Owen said she understood the dilemma facing schools.

“Some districts just don’t have the resources to hire a school resource officer, but were under pressure to ramp up security after Parkland,’’ Owen said.

Schools had a choice: hire a resource officer for upwards of $35,000 or train teachers in gun safety for a fraction of the cost. A Wyoming superintendent told Owen he could either hire a resource officer or hire who he really needed, which was another teacher.

Then there’s another aspect to this: insurance.

“I think that insurance companies could continue to prove a formidable obstacle to districts that want to arm teachers,’’ Owen said. “This is interesting to me because insurance companies aren’t really known for being politically motivated one way or another; their job is to assess risk. If more insurance companies conclude, as they did in Kansas, that they cannot underwrite the risks associated with arming teachers then I think that could be a major stumbling block for the movement towards arming teachers or school staff.’’

In the end, Owen said she believes she knows where this is heading.

“I expect that the momentum behind arming teachers or staff will start tapering off as we get further away from Parkland,’’ Owen said, “but start up again if there’s another school shooting.’’

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