Educators react to bill allowing teachers to carry pistols

A bill that would allow teachers to carry concealed firearms under certain conditions on school property was recently introduced to the Alabama House of Representatives. House Bill 435, which is sponsored by State Rep. Will Ainsworth, R-Guntersville, was introduced on Tuesday, Feb. 20 and is currently pending in the House Public Safety and Homeland Security Committee.

“This bill would authorize persons employed as administrative personnel or teachers, with certain qualifications, to carry a pistol while on school property,” read the first draft of the bill. “This will would also provide for communication with local law enforcement and civil immunity.”

The bill would require pistol-carrying school employees to have “successfully completed a 40-hour course in basic school policing in a program approved by the Alabama Peace Officers’ Standards and Training Commission,” and required training to include, but not be limited to, crisis management, active shooter scenarios and hostile situations.

The cost of the pistol and ammunition would be at the expense of the person seeking authorization.

State Rep. Corley Ellis, R-Columbiana, spoke out against the bill during a Feb. 26 interview.

“We’ve got a serious problem on our hands, and I’m not sure what the answers are,” Ellis said. “Our teachers already have their plates full with educating our students.”

Instead of allowing teachers to carry firearms, Ellis said a larger presence of student resource officers, heightened security measures, focusing on student mental health and monitoring student social media posts would likely be better alternatives.

“I’m willing to look at any potential answers there are,” Ellis said.

In Shelby County, Ellis said both county and city districts, along with private schools, do an excellent job of keeping students safe.

“I think they do a tremendous job, but it’s something we have to continually assess and re-evaluate,” Ellis said.

Pelham City Schools superintendent Scott Coefield said he would have concerns about the bill if it were to pass. According to Coefield, undergoing training and carrying firearms are not part of a teacher’s job description.

“Teachers are here to nurture and love and educate kids,” Coefield said. “They didn’t sign up to carry a gun or try to stop an intruder.”

Coefield said PCS already has many safety precautions in place, including secured entrances, regularly upgraded cameras and a student resource officer in all schools at all times. He said PCS recently built two new schools, which have the latest technological and architectural safety features.

“After (the Columbine High School massacre of 1999), school construction sort of changed,” Coefield said. “All of the schools built before Columbine had multiple entrances.”

In light of the recent mass shooting at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School in Parkland, Florida, Coefield said PCS is urging teachers, parents and students to report any potential threats.

Student Services Coordinator Dorann Tanner said it is too early for Alabaster City Schools to take a position on the bill, but said the will be closely watching to see how it is discussed and altered during legislative sessions.

“We’re just watching and monitoring it right now,” Tanner said. “Any time a bill is introduced, it goes through multiple changes before it’s approved, if it’s even approved.”

Tanner said ACS already takes multiple precautions to ensure student safety, including having student resource officers in schools, maintaining security cameras, keeping all entrances locked and having regular drills.

“I feel confident that we are keeping our students safe,” Tanner said.

Thompson High School teacher Jake Huggins said he disagrees with the bill and said carrying a pistol in class could pose as a risk, negatively affect the relationships between students and teachers.

“A student’s ability to learn from any teacher is based on the relationship he or she is able to form with that teacher, and that relationship must be built on trust. I cannot imagine that a student would be able to trust someone they think might be carrying a gun for the purpose of protecting them, and yet who has much less training than an actual law enforcement officer,” Huggins said.

He also said that the presence of guns in schools might serve as a “constant reminder” to students of the possibility of school shootings.

“While I certainly think that we must always be ready to act, should an intruder enter the building with the end of causing harm to students and teachers, knowing that some teachers might be carrying guns would be a constant reminder to students of it being a possibility,” Huggins said. “Students are intuitive and ask a lot of questions. They would know. Students should laugh, collaborate and enjoy learning. This would create a dark cloud over what should be a positive place.”

Huggins said he considers his school to be a safe environment for students, faculty and staff, largely due to the student resource officers on campus.

“It makes more sense to me to hire more law enforcement officers to remain on campus during school hours,” Huggins said. I feel very safe in the school in which I work. We have amazing SROs, and they are ever vigilant.”

Representatives from the Shelby County Board of Education said they are dedicated to maintaining a safe environment for all students.

In 2013, the SCBOE implemented its Safe Schools Initiative, a five-point plan that involves collaboration between schools and law enforcement, safety reviews of each building’s architecture, school safety and security teams, safety drills and training and regular improvement of the safety plan.

“There’s not just one measure that keeps us safe, it’s multiple measures and dialogue,” SCBOE Assistant Superintendent Lewis Brooks said.

Within the past year, Brooks said there were few violent threats and no weapons were brought on campus. He said threats are dealt with by administrators on a case-by-case basis, and bringing a weapon on school property is grounds for expulsion.

“I do feel like what we’re doing is effective, but we always have to keep it at the forefront of our minds,” Brooks said. “When you have people coming together for the good of our students, that’s what makes it work.”