Local education officials prefer police to armed teachers for making schools safer
BY KIM ARCHER & ANDREA EGER World Staff Writers
Tuesday, January 15, 2013
1/15/13 at 8:04 AM
Obama backs gun limits, concedes tough fight ahead
Conn. group launches anti-violence initiative
Hiring more police officers who are trained to work in schools is far preferable to allowing teachers to arm themselves, area school administrators say.
But employing more school resource officers would be difficult amid declining public education dollars, they said.
"Do we really want our schools to be Dodge City, with Festus, the awkward but good-natured assistant principal, and Miss Kitty, the lovable English teacher, walking down the school halls packing a Glock 9 millimeter? No, we don't," said Bixby Superintendent Kyle Wood. "'Gunsmoke' was one of my favorite shows as a kid, but gun-toting Wild West characters don't belong in our schools."
The deadly shootings at a Connecticut elementary school in December have spurred a national outcry to prevent such tragedies.
The National Rifle Association suggested that the federal government pay to place an armed guard at each of America's 98,800 public schools.
And Oklahoma Rep. Mark McCullough, R-Sapulpa, and state Sen. Ralph Shortey, R-Oklahoma City, have announced a plan to introduce legislation to arm teachers and school administrators.
"School security is a good thing," Wood said. "There is simply no downside to providing a properly trained and sworn police officer in a school. It is expensive, however."
School funding cuts, as well as tax reductions, have left Oklahoma schools with no specific funds for security and less funding in general, he said.
"I do not support in any form or fashion the notion of arming teachers," Wood said. "It is perhaps the worst idea regarding education I have heard in a long time, and I've heard a good number in the last couple of years."
If teachers are armed, it is more probable that students may find a gun and accidentally injure themselves or someone else, said Tara Thompson, spokeswoman for Broken Arrow Public Schools.
Catoosa Superintendent Rick Kibbe said, "I don't believe more guns in schools is necessarily an answer to the situation we saw in Connecticut."
He would like to see the state call a bond issue to provide additional security for every school district in the state, for such things as securing buildings, purchasing surveillance systems and funding school resource officers.
Several years ago, a statewide bond issue was held to improve physical facilities at higher education institutions, he noted.
Bartlesville Superintendent Gary Quinn said arming teachers "just doesn't seem like the learning environment that we want."
"I don't want students to feel like it's a bunker mentality where it's a police state and we've got to be armed in order to protect you. I want teachers to be teachers and not be policemen," he said.
Quinn has been dealing with fallout from an incident in which police foiled an alleged mass-shooting plot by a student at the high school before Christmas.
In fact, before administrators learned of the alleged plan, Bartlesville police had pledged to fund one school resource officer at the high school, he said.
As students returned to school in January, the district hired an off-duty police officer to be posted at each of its 10 schools. At $20 per hour for eight-hour shifts, this might not be affordable long term, he said.
All area school districts have a mix of security measures such as surveillance systems, buzz-in entrances, school resource officers and relationships with local law enforcement agencies.
The best defense is for students and teachers to feel comfortable in reporting potential threats, administrators say.
"Sensitivity to act when something doesn't look or seem right is a first and foremost strategy," Sand Springs Superintendent Lloyd Snow said.
Training essential for armed school security
"There is a great deal of difference between CLEET training for peace officers and obtaining a concealed-carry permit," said Chris Sutterfield, chief of operations for Oklahoma's Council on Law Enforcement Education and Training.
Officers who go through the CLEET academy get 68 hours of firearms training and shoot around 1,000 rounds of ammunition. They must qualify with their handguns and a shotgun.
Each officer goes through simulated scenarios and must make decisions on whether to shoot or not shoot "to the instructors' satisfaction," Sutterfield said.
Individuals who attend a concealed-carry permit course are required only to demonstrate safe handling of their pistol.
Lynn Stockley, Tulsa Classroom Teachers Association president, said most teachers she has heard from don't want to arm themselves at school.
Tulsa Public Schools has 15 teachers who are trained to lead emergency preparedness workshops, and more than 3,500 children in the district have already participated.
The "Resilient and Ready" workshops, which were developed by Save the Children, are specifically geared for children. They combine cooperative games with disaster education to provide a fun, nonthreatening way for children to learn about preparedness and to normalize evacuations and sheltering-in-place.
Kevin Pearson, choir teacher at Tulsa's East Central Junior High School, said efforts to raise awareness and increase emergency preparedness should be sufficient and that armed teachers would just put kids on edge.
"If I was a student who walked in on the first day and saw my teacher was carrying a gun, I would feel less safe because there is that heightened awareness of danger there and maybe I'm not in a safe environment," he said. "The Monday after the school shootings in Newtown, Conn., I had a discussion with my students. We need to have drills and know what to do, and I said to them, 'I love you with all my heart, and I would take a bullet for any one of you.' "
Sally Cannizzaro, a staff development teacher at Memorial Junior High School, said many students in an urban setting see weapons as a threat because of the criminal activity they witness in their neighborhoods and, in some cases, even in their homes.
"The apartment complex where those four women were just shot and killed is in the area that feeds into my junior high," she said. "We try and tell our kids if they don't have an ideal home life or neighborhood that education can change that. Stay in school and create a life for yourself that you want. We want to present a different view and that we are different. We aren't a jail or gun-toting security guards."
Cannizzaro added that she wishes legislators who have expressed interest in funding firearms training for teachers could direct their "passion and energy" toward funding for more teachers for special-education students and English-language learners.
"There are a lot of teachers who own guns, but I haven't heard from a single one who thinks we ought to have them at school. We all keep them locked up in our gun safes at home where they belong," she said.
Area schools' security personnel, and how they are paid
Tulsa Public Schools*
Salaries and benefits for 23 sworn police officers and 20 school district-employed security guards = $ 1.65 million
Contract for outside security and systems support = $504,820
Nonsworn support personnel (i.e., emergency management director, alarm technicians, communications personnel) = $623,444
All other expenses, such as alarm sensor maintenance, data support, fire inspections and overtime for athletic events = $284,698
Total budget for Tulsa Public Schools campus police and security = $3,062,962
Bartlesville: One school resource officer paid by Police Department.
Bixby: Two full-time Bixby police officers. District pays $76,400 per year, which is 70 percent of cost. City pays remaining 30 percent.
Broken Arrow: Three school resource officers paid by Police Department.
Catoosa: One school resource officer, with automobile and equipment. $80,000 per year paid by district.
Glenpool: One school resource officer. $29,498 contract with city paid by district.
Jenks: Seven campus police officers. Cost $326,144 paid by district.
Liberty: One school resource officer paid with $30,000 grant.
Owasso: Two full-time school resource officers. District pays half of salary and benefits, which comes to $63,000 per year. City pays remainder.
Sapulpa: One school resource officer. Amount district pays unavailable Monday night. City pays remainder.
Skiatook: One school resource officer. District pays $41,500 per year, which is 70 percent of the cost. City pays remainder.
Union: 19 full-time and provisional security guards and three school resource officers, two from Tulsa County Sheriff's Office and one from Broken Arrow Police Department. BAPD shares the cost of its officer with district. District's total security cost is $926,000.
* Every district has a variety of security measures in place.
Original Print Headline: Ensuring student safety
Kim Archer 918-581-8315
Andrea Eger, 918-581-8470
Bixby Police Department School Resource Officers Rene Torres (left) and Harrell Kendrick (right) chat with Bixby Middle School counselor Sandy Rayon at the school on Monday. CORY YOUNG / Tulsa World
Bixby Police Department School Resource Officer Harrell Kendrick gets a high-five from a student in the main hallway at Bixby Middle School. CORY YOUNG / Tulsa World
Tulsa's Sequoyah Elementary School teacher Dianna Potts (in lead) instructs third-graders to walk in a circle as part of developing listening skills during a "Preparing for Disaster: Resilient and Ready" workshop last week. STEPHEN PINGRY / Tulsa World