Teachers agree on most school safety issues, except guns

May 31, 2023
Bullying is the biggest safety concern at their schools, and safety measures like security guards and cameras don't hurt school climate, according to the results of a new survey.

May 31—Teachers are in agreement: Bullying is the biggest safety concern at their schools, and safety measures like security guards and cameras don't hurt school climate, according to the results of a new survey.

But where teachers disagree is whether they should be allowed to carry guns on campus, and whether doing so would make schools safer.

More than half (54%) of teachers who responded to a survey of nearly 1,000 randomly selected educators conducted by the RAND Corporation said educators carrying firearms would make schools less safe, while 20% said it would make schools safer. The remaining 26% said it would neither make schools safer nor less safe.

"It definitely caught our eye about just how unified teachers are about school safety issues generally, except when it comes to guns," said Heather Schwartz, a senior researcher at RAND.

The idea of arming teachers, or loosening state restrictions to allow concealed-carry permit holders to bring guns into schools, is not new. The debates are often reignited after high-profile mass shootings at schools, like at Sandy Hook Elementary School in Newtown, Conn., in 2012, in 2018 at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School in Parkland, Fla., and The Covenant School in March in Nashville, Tenn.

Advocates—often Republican lawmakers—argue that having armed staff on campus allows them to respond to threats more quickly, or dissuade would-be shooters from acting altogether.

Teachers have consistently opposed the idea in past surveys. Three surveys in 2018 in the weeks following the Florida high school shooting found the majority of teachers don't want to be armed. A nationally representative Gallup Panel survey then found that about 18% of respondents said they'd apply for special training to carry a gun at school. Sixty percent of respondents to that survey said arming teachers would make schools less safe.

All of the major teacher, principal, school employee, and school security organizations oppose guns in schools, except when carried by a police or security officer.

When asked what measures should be included in any school safety laws in an EdWeek Research Center Survey in June 2022, educators were least likely to suggest arming teachers.

Teachers most concerned about bullying

RAND's survey found more fervent opinions among those who said they opposed arming teachers. Forty-four percent of respondents said they were strongly against the concept, compared with 6% strongly in favor.

White teachers and men who teach in rural schools were most likely to indicate support for arming teachers, if allowed. As of 2021, 28 states allowed schools to arm certain teachers or staff beyond trained school safety guards, according to the RAND report.

But although white teachers were more likely to support arming teachers in general, they were no more likely than other demographics to say they were interested in personally carrying a firearm.

The survey was administered in October and November 2022. In the period that the survey was open, 17 shootings occurred in public schools in 14 different states, resulting in eight injuries and two deaths, according to the report.

Despite the fact that school shootings are an extreme form of school violence and often drive the policy debate around school safety, only 5% of teachers said shootings were the largest safety concern at their school. And teachers who reported interest in personally carrying firearms and those who indicated that teacher-carry policies would make schools safer were no more likely than other teachers to select active shooters as their top school safety concern, the report said.

Instead, 49% said bullying and cyberbullying are the biggest safety concerns facing their schools. Teachers who did not identify bullying were split over their top safety concern, but they most commonly chose drugs, student fights, or self-harm. Aside from bullying, elementary teachers were most concerned about educators being attacked, middle school teachers were most concerned about fighting, and high school teachers were most concerned about drugs.

The difference is important in informing policy decisions, Schwartz said.

"To understand the nature of the school safety problems, I think it's important to say that the schools that are serving young children really have different issues in general than ones that are serving tweens and teens," she said.

Other findings from the report:

— Seventy-seven percent of respondents felt either confident or very confident that threats would be reported if students or staff heard about them.

— About half of the teachers (48%) felt that students do not know how to recognize behavior that should be reported. Thirty-four percent said students don't know how to report threats, and 27% said they believe students do not trust that their concerns will be taken seriously and prompt follow-up, which could cause them not to report them at all.

— Thirty-five percent of respondents said their schools had been disrupted at least once in the 2021 — 22 school year because of students making threats on social media.

— About one in five teachers were worried about being the victim of an attack at their school. Teachers, however, were more concerned about their students' safety than their own, with about 33% saying they were worried their students would be attacked.


(c)2023 Education Week (Bethesda, Md.)

Visit Education Week (Bethesda, Md.) at www.edweek.org

Distributed by Tribune Content Agency, LLC.

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