Presidential Policy Directive 8 (PPD8) directed multiple federal agencies to work together to identify preparedness goals to address the greatest threats posed to the security of our nation. These threats included terrorist threats, domestic and foreign, and Active Assailant events. PPD8 was written in January of 2013 and went into effect in July of 2013. The Department of Homeland Security (DHS) and the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) identified five Mission Areas needed to be addressed for a governmental or non-governmental agency to be considered prepared. These same five Mission Areas are written into the FEMA Guide For High Quality Emergency Operations Plans. This guide came out in July of 2013 and is available on line for free. It contains everything schools and school districts need to do in terms of planning in order to be prepared for natural or manmade disaster incidents, including these five Mission Areas:
I have read or referenced the FEMA Guide hundreds of times throughout the course of my work, and nowhere in that guide did I see reference to Overreacting or Knee Jerk Reactions as preparedness Mission Areas. Yet in the wake of last week’s Parkland FL. school massacre, I’m hearing a lot of just that from a lot of people, including representatives of our government. In my opinion as a school safety professional, the most dangerous of those knee jerk overreactions is arming school teachers. I offer that opinion as a trained professional in both law enforcement and school safety, based on research in both industries. The day we take to arming teachers as a solution to school violence is also the day we must raise the white flag of surrender to the domestic terrorists too often mistakenly referred to as “School Shooters.” I say we will have surrendered because if we arm teachers, we’ve allowed these killers to change our way of life and our education culture as a whole. Effecting the American culture, way of life, and safety of the populace through acts of murder or violence is the F.B.I. definition of terrorism, so we should treat this problem for what it is. We should also fund protection of these attacks like we fund protection of other terrorist attacks.
My next statement is not meant to be political, as common sense enters into this and not politics. The most dangerous and disturbing advocate for arming teachers I’ve yet to hear is the current President of the United States. In a meeting with grieving students, parents, and teachers at about 2:00 PST February 21, 2018, the President stated he would “Advocate arming 20% of teachers who are very adept at handling a gun.” Those of us involved in education safety and those involved in decision making levels in schools and school districts need to take a moment, take a deep breath, slow things down, and take a hard look at this statement made by our highest ranking law enforcement officer, albeit one with no law enforcement training, and think about it.
I hear all too often the tired statement that the only way to stop a bad guy with a gun in a school is with a good guy with a gun in a school. That statement is typically made by a person with no law enforcement experience, who has never been inside the walls of a school during a chaotic violent incident or a lockdown, has never been in a gunfight, and has never experienced the mental skills needed to make deadly force decisions while the brain is red lining on adrenaline and increased blood flow.
Opinions vary on arming teachers in the U.S., and some states are doing it now.
A lot of people, including some people I meet who are trainers, disagree with my opinion about not arming teachers, even though my opinion is based on facts. A lot of these trainers teach firearm tactics or sell guns, so they possibly have ulterior motives for arming teachers. I won’t talk about my opinion here, because it really doesn’t matter. But I will talk about the facts involved with arming teachers, because facts are what school administrators need to base their decisions on, and facts are what the civil courts will consider when deciding how big a check your district is going to write when an innocent person gets killed by an armed teacher. Politicians are immune from civil liability if someone gets hurt because of their advocacy of a certain policy or a law they write allowing you to do something like arming a teacher, so paying attention to the facts on this issue is important for the decision makers.
Let’s first look at civil liability for arming teachers. There is a low likelihood of occurrence of an armed Active Assailant attack at a school, even though this is a high impact event that must be planned for accordingly. There are approximately 110,000 public schools in the U.S., and as devastating as the Parkland FL. massacre was, the fact is there were about 109,999 schools that day that were not attacked. The likelihood of occurrence of an accidental weapons discharge by an armed teacher, or the theft of a teacher’s gun is 100% to occur at some point in time. By arming 20% of the teachers in the U.S., we’ve now increased the likelihood of occurrence of an event involving a firearm at a school significantly. If a policy to arm teachers is instituted by a school district and injury occurs due to that policy, the district or school will be held liable. There have been documented incidents of accidental discharge happening in schools and gun thefts in schools with armed teachers. They both happen in law enforcement, so why wouldn’t they happen in schools?
And who will write the check if there is a liability issue in a school related to arming teachers. Will the school district insurance company or JPA cover it? Maybe, and maybe not. Being armed is not a part of the job description when teachers take the position, so there will most probably be an upward adjustment to insurance premiums is teachers are armed. I worked in my position as Director of Public safety in a California public school district for nine years. I carried a concealed weapon every day, because I was certified to do so legally, it was written into my job description, and it was approved by the governing board. I still carried my own million dollar professional liability policy, which was very expensive. I did this because there was a grey area in the district’s insurance on whether I would be covered should I need to use deadly force. We get judged in black and white when we go to court, so there can be no such thing as a grey area when we deal with liability issues. If you tell a teacher they will need to pay $3,000 a year for professional liability insurance, they might not want to do that, so someone should ask them before they advocate arming them.
Now let’s talk about equipment costs. If a district is going to ask a teacher to carry a gun, they are probably going to have to buy the gun and related equipment for them. A decent pistol costs an average of $700. The holster, ammunition, and other equipment would be about another $200. We’ll do the math here in a minute.
And where would the teacher keep the weapon? Some states are talking about keeping them in a lock box in the office and taking them out when they need them. Let’s think about that one. An Active Assailant attack happens without warning. Any cop will tell you that if your plan A is going someplace to unlock and retrieve your weapon when the attack starts, you better have a pretty good Plan B, because your weapon isn’t going to help you at all.
The weapon has to be carried on the person to be effective. That means the average teacher, especially female teachers, would have to buy new wardrobes in order to conceal a weapon. My school district was in an area where there was triple digit heat at least six months a year, so people dressed accordingly. There aren’t many places for a female wearing a light summer dress or a male wearing a short sleeve shirt to conceal a weapon. What I tell teachers who are advocates of being armed is to carry a full size brick to work concealed someplace on their person for a month, and that’s what it’s like to carry a concealed weapon. It’s pretty cool for a few weeks, but after you don’t use it for a while it becomes a nuisance, so you leave it in a desk drawer instead of carrying it. And you should probably to take it for granted all your students know where your brick is when you’re not carrying it, and one of them is going to try and steal it. You don’t want to be the teacher who has to report to the office and tell the principal to call the police because your brick was stolen…
And how about firearms training for those teachers? Law enforcement and military don’t just train to shoot, they also train in the mental tactics involved in using deadly force. This can’t be taught in a 4-8 hour block of range training most states require for a CCW permit. The President used the terms “highly trained and very adept” teachers should be armed. Law enforcement requires weeks of initial training and hours of yearly re-certification in order to carry a gun, but I’ll use a low end number of 40 hours to train a teacher. That’s an impossible expectation, because there is not that much training time built into the school year for a teacher, and contractually, the district would have to pay them to go to the training and pay for the training itself. There is Zero school budget for that type of training. And no amount of training can prepare a teacher to look through the sights of a gun, pull the trigger, and take the life of a student they probably knew since kindergarten. I love working with teachers because they love their kids. That’s why they took the jobs they did. As a trainer, I would be remiss in my duties to train a teacher the type of mental detachment needed to take a life, because that detachment would transfer into the classroom. Teachers don’t take the job to kill their students, they take the job to educate and care for them.
Now let’s look at cost associated to arming teachers. The President pulled a figure out of the air today of arming 20% of the teachers in the U.S. I’m not sure where he came up with that figure as a solution, but I’ll use that for cost comparison. According to the National Center For Education Statistics 2017 numbers, there are about 3.2 million public school teachers in the U.S. This doesn’t include private school teachers or teachers in institutes of higher learning, but we’ll use that number for discussion. The average hourly rate for a teacher in the U.S. shows to be about $30 per hour. Some are higher and some are lower, but we’ll use that. I’m not that good with math, so the following are just rough estimates of the initial costs of arming 20% of our teachers:
- 20% of 3.2 million teachers equals about 640,000 teachers with an approximate hourly rate of $30.
- 40 hours of initial training equals 25,600,000 training hours for this group, at a cost of about $786,000,000. The budget for this training in a school district would be $0.
- The cost of equipment for initially arming 20% of the teachers would be about $900 each. Multiplied times the 640,000 teachers, that would be about $576,000,000. The school district budget for this is $0, so these costs would have to be passed onto the teachers.
- OSHA would probably require armed teachers to wear Kevlar vests, which are about $1,000 each for a good one. This would be another cost that would have to be passed onto the teacher.
I offer these basic numbers just to show how unreal of a recommendation arming 20% of our teachers is in terms of addressing a realistic threat that is killing our children. Even if Congress funded this recommendation with about 1.3 billion dollars, it would take years to train and arm a group of teachers this size, so this suggestion offers nothing to address today’s threat. What the President suggested today is creating an armed civilian militia composed of untrained persons who would be providing a false sense of security as an ancillary duty to what they were hired for, and this would have no effect on the root causes of school violence. I’m not sure if it’s irony or insanity in suggesting teachers should be the first line of defense to a problem local, state, and federal agencies should be handling. To make sense of this, we just need to look at airport security after the 9/11/2001 attacks. We did not arm the ticket agents and baggage handlers to make the airports safer. The governments spent billions of dollars on law enforcement, TSA Agents, and infrastructure target hardening. Rightfully so, but we should be outraged our kids are safer waiting at an airport gate than they are in their classrooms. I know I am.
“The only way to stop a bad guy with a gun in a school is with a good guy with a gun,” some say. I’ll buy into part of that. It’s not the only way, but it will help. As long the good guy with the gun is wearing a law enforcement badge, has law enforcement training, and preferably is familiar with that school because he or she is a School Resource Officer. It costs an average of $185,000 a year for a school district to hire a School Resource Officer. I don’t know how many SRO’s that 1.3 billion dollars we talked about costing to arm 20% of the teachers, but in the Great state of Nevada where I did my law enforcement career there is a unit of measure called a Crap Load, and that’s about how many SRO’s we could hire with that money…
There is little funding available to assist school districts with paying for SRO’s, so they typically pick up 50% of the cost with a 50% match from the local law enforcement agency. If the politicians from the top down want to look at a realistic measure that would have a positive effect on school safety, and also fit into the five Mission Areas of Emergency Response, they should take a look at funding the School Resource Office program nationwide. None of the costs and none of the liability issues addressed in this blog would be taken on by the school district with the SRO program. The same can be said for the liability issues addressed in this blog.
Even with the SRO program, the law enforcement personnel assigned to the schools cannot be everywhere, and are not on duty at the schools 100% of the time. The SRO program is one piece of the preparedness Mission Areas addressed in PPD8. Infrastructure target hardening, planning, and training still have to be done to make schools as safe as possible. That all takes money, and we need the folks in government to step up and fund school safety grants and SRO grants so we can get this done. In a prior blog, I quoted a retired FBI agent who said on T.V. the government should cancel the proposed parade on Pennsylvania Ave. and divert the thirty million dollars that would cost into school safety to show how great our Country really is. That’s a good start, and I couldn’t agree more. I’ll buy that Agent a beverage of his choice if I ever meet him, because he gets it.
As I write this, I am listening to a town hall meeting involving the students, staff, and parents from the Stoneman Douglas High School massacre. Ashley Kurth is the name of the brave teacher who gathered up twenty-five students in her classroom and kept them safe in a closet until law enforcement arrived. She made an eloquent statement during this meeting to one of her Florida senators regarding the President advocating the arming of teachers. Ms. Kurth said the last thing she would have been thinking about when sheltering those kids would have been going for a gun. She also said the first thing the police asked after breaching her classroom door and pointing guns at them was “Is anyone hurt?” The second thing they asked while still pointing guns at them was, “Does anyone here have a gun?” She said she was very glad she could answer NO to the gun question, as she understood there would have been a good chance she might have gotten mistakenly shot in the midst of the panic of the attack.
I am not an expert in Active Assailant response, but unfortunately Ashley Kurth is now an expert because she survived the unimaginable. We, and this includes our politicians, all need to listen to experts like her, because she has touched the flame we hope we will never have to. She’s been there and knows what works. Realistic recommendations that fit into the Five Mission Areas of emergency response, and government funding of school safety measures addressing those recommendations, will turn this thing around.