The debate ignited by the South Florida high school shooting over whether teachers should carry guns is a national one, but not for St. Charles Parish Public Schools.
“We have devoted teachers who work hard on behalf of students,” said School Board President Al Suffrin. “We will not ask them to carry weapons and assume responsibility to play a role that is best assigned to trained law enforcement professionals.”
The nation is deeply divided over the issue since last month’s shooting where a former student of the school returned there and shot 17 people, including students, to death.
While opinions vary over how to keep schools safe, Suffrin said it’s been a long standing proactive effort in St. Charles Parish and it’s working.
As part of the system’s safety net, school officials have approved school resource officers, perimeter fencing, cameras, a visitor management system, entrance vestibules, drills, safety audits and active shooter simulations done in collaboration with the parish Sheriff’s Office and first responders.
But when it comes to arming teachers, despite President Donald Trump’s suggestion of providing bonuses to those who do it, school and law enforcement officials agree taking that step requires considerable thought and resources.
Suffrin said there are many factors to consider, including “the need for training, weapon retention, stray fire, mistaking the armed teacher as the shooter during an active shooter situation, insurance and accidental discharge to name a few.”
Sheriff’s Office Chief Deputy Rodney Madere said arming teachers and staff could be done safely, but he also agreed it’s a move that requires considering many factors.
“If they decide to take that next step, we’re here and we’re willing to help,” Madere said. “But it might not be the right cure for every school system.”
It would take the approval of all the stakeholders – school system, Sheriff’s Office and parents – to consider it, he said. If approved, it would require extensive training and teachers would have to undergo a background check, psychological profile and interview before being allowed to do the training, and that could be required throughout the year and every year.
While some have also questioned whether taking this route would detract from a teacher’s mission, Madere maintained it would be better to have those already at a shooting scene prepared and trained.
“The actions they take immediately save more lives than us,” he said. “How many times did the police actually go there and stop the shooting is my question? There are plenty of things that can be done such as training teachers and staff to intervene in those early minutes.”
It’s why the Sheriff’s Office and school system hold the active shooter program, which is aimed at preparing teachers, staff and students — because they become the first responders in those early minutes, they all play a major role in saving lives.
But Madere said teachers bearing or having access to weapons at schools comes with a serious commitment.
“That’s a lot to ask,” he said. “Not everybody is psychologically prepared to take a life. There are a lot of people’s religious beliefs that don’t allow it, and it’s not an easy thing to do. It’s why people count on the police to do it for them.”