NAACP panelists not keen on arming teachers

Feb. 21, 2023
The panelists included educators, law enforcement, a legislator, students, a clinical social worker and others.

Feb. 20 — Panelists at a Terre Haute NAACP meeting opposed or expressed serious reservations about arming teachers as a way to curb gun violence in schools.

The Greater Terre Haute NAACP Branch hosted a virtual community conversation about effective responses to gun violence in schools, which included discussion about House Bill 1177. That bill, which passed out of the House last week, would provide state funding to train teachers who carry guns in classrooms.

The panelists included educators, law enforcement, a legislator, students, a clinical social worker and others.

About 30 people attended the Zoom event, either as panelists or observers.

Among those participating was Terre Haute Police Chief Shawn Keen, who said that in general, he doesn't agree with the concept of arming school teachers. It would create inherent risks that are unnecessary — especially in a district such as Vigo County, which already has armed school protection officers in every building, he said.

Also, Vigo County School Corp. students and staff have undergone ALICE training, which gives them the option to self-evacuate and teaches them how to counter-attack in the event of an active shooter situation.

"I can tell you a one-time course or even a once a year course in firearms does not prepare someone for a critical incident such as an active shooter," Keen said.

Also, how would responding officers distinguish an armed teacher or staff member from the actual threat when responding to an active shooter, Keen asked.

That dilemma, coupled with misinformation that might be relayed, could impact response times and cause confusion.

"It's just a number of risks," Keen said.

VCSC interim superintendent Tom Balitewicz said he had reservations about arming classroom teachers. "I just don't think at this point in time we're ready for something like that," he said.

He made reference to a superintendent in Texas who left his gun in a school bathroom and it was found by a student. "Those are the reasons why we are concerned," he said.

Balitewicz described responding to a Code Red situation at a school a few years ago "and my adrenaline was so high I could barely dial my cell phone. ... If you're not trained and you haven't experienced those situations, the likelihood of freezing up and having that adrenaline rush is highly likely, in my opinion."

School districts can already authorize the arming of teachers, but there isn't a specific training curriculum — or much money — to go with it, the Indiana Capital Chronicle reported.

School corporations can get one matching grant annually from the Indiana Secured School Fund for their security programs. House Bill 1177 would allow an additional grant for specialized firearms instruction.

Participation would be voluntary for both school districts and individual staff members.

"This is just a standardized [training] format that the state will pay for," author Rep. Jim Lucas, R- Seymour, said on the House floor, the Chronicle reported. He's said the bill is a response to deadly mass shootings at schools across the country.

Another panelist during Monday's NAACP meeting was State Rep. Tonya Pfaff, who voted against HB 1177. "I'm completely anti-gun on any school campus except for (armed) school police officers," she said.

At North Vigo, where she is a math teacher, "We have three police officers who protect us and they are trained to do so. I don't see any reason for a teacher to be armed," Pfaff said.

She noted that before teachers could receive such training, a school board would have to agree to it. In Indiana, just a handful of districts allow teachers to carry guns in the classroom, she said.

Pfaff worries that arming teachers might start to normalize guns in schools and she wonders about the impact on students. "It's not normal to look up and your math teacher has a gun on her hip. I cannot get past that," she said.

South Vigo High School student Samhita Shantharam believes arming teachers would create more of a liability than a safety net for students. "I personally would not feel any more safe with my teacher in possession of a firearm than I do already in school," she said.

Those participating in the Zoom were urged to contact their legislators and in particular, local State Sen. John Ford, since the legislation will now be considered by the Indiana senate.

Theressa Bynum, who chairs the Terre Haute NAACP branch communication committee, said local branch members need to reach out to other Indiana NAACP branches to make them aware of the legislation and the importance of opposing it.

John Lang, Terre Haute branch first vice president, asked those participating to make a commitment to contact legislators and express opposition.

Sue Loughlin can be reached at 812-231-4235 or at Follow Sue on Twitter @TribStarSue


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