Maryland educators are pushing back against President Donald Trump’s call for more armed adults in schools while saying they’re open to new ideas about how to make school facilities more secure following last week’s shooting in Florida that left 17 people dead.
Maryland’s state superintendent will convene an emergency meeting Monday of the Maryland Center for School Safety board to discuss ways to “ensure that every resource available is being used to make schools safe.” Superintendent Karen Salmon also said more should be done to support and counsel troubled students.
The incident at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School in Parkland, Fla., and the national debate in its aftermath have led to introspection and activism in school communities across the region.
Students in Baltimore, Montgomery and Howard counties, for example, have taken part in protests or are planning to on March 14 and March 21 — days that have been advocated by survivors of the Florida shooting for walkouts and rallies.
In Howard County, the school district will hold a community meeting Tuesday at River Hill High School in Columbia to discuss school security and student mental health initiatives.
But as school communities discuss safety, few have advocated arming school personnel, suggested by Trump and others, as part of the solution.
“What I see is a level of frustration moving teachers not to despair but to activism,” said Sean McComb, an English teacher at Baltimore County’s Patapsco High School who was National Teacher of the Year in 2014.
McComb said many teachers favor gun control laws that polls suggest a majority of Americans support, including a ban on assault weapons and universal background checks.
“I don’t think the presence of more guns will make children feel safer in schools,” he said.
Most school districts in the Baltimore region already have armed police officers patrolling some campuses. Only Baltimore City and Carroll County have no armed officers in their public schools.
In Baltimore City, the president of the school police union has been arguing for years that having armed officers would make a difference in an active-shooter situation. Baltimore is the only jurisdiction in the state with a sworn police force specifically for a school district, but state law does not allow for them to be armed while inside school buildings.
In Carroll, there’s only one public schools employee who is currently armed — the school security supervisor, who is based at district headquarters in Westminster.
Superintendent Stephen Guthrie said the district is discussing whether to place armed officers in each of the county’s seven high schools. The question largely comes down to finances, he said. Guthrie pointed out that there is low crime in Carroll County and not much violence in its schools.
“Do we need them? Do we need them all the time? And if we decide we do need them, what’s going to be the funding source?” Guthrie said. “I don’t have additional funds. The sheriff doesn’t have additional funds.”
Baltimore-area districts that do have school-based police officers do so through partnerships with their local law enforcement agencies. For example, armed officers in Harford County high schools are supplied by the sheriff’s department.
Across the region, officers are primarily in high schools and middle schools, though there are some exceptions. Havre de Grace police began staffing elementary schools within weeks of the 2012 Sandy Hook school massacre in Newtown, Conn.
There are also five elementary/middle school campuses in Baltimore with a school police officer, though they are not armed.
There was an armed school resource officer at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School, but he did not enter the building during last week’s shooting rampage. The officer has since resigned.
“That didn’t seem to be a deterrent or a factor in mitigating the violence in the school,” Guthrie said. “You don’t want to spend $1 million to do just anything. You want to spend it on something that will really make a difference.”
Sgt. Clyde Boatwright, president of Baltimore’s school police union, said it’s insulting that Trump would suggest arming teachers as a response to the recent high school shooting.
“Security and safety should be left to the professionals who do it on a regular basis, as their primary responsibility,” he said. “Let’s try arming our police officers first. Our trained, certified police force.”
Baltimore County is the only school system in the region that has experienced a school shooting in recent years. In 2012, an armed student at Perry Hall High School shot a student in the cafeteria. Since then the county took steps to make its building more secure, by putting in cameras, a buzzer system and background checks for visitors.
"I am in support of enhanced safety and security measures in schools; however, I believe we should be very careful about putting an added burden on our teachers to carry firearms,” said Interim Superintendent Verletta White.
The head of the state teachers union reacted with alarm at Trump’s proposal to potentially arm teachers.
“How could any elected official really believe that putting so many more guns in schools could make them safer?” said Betty Weller, president of the Maryland State Education Association. “We should be arming schools with more school counselors and psychologists.”
Baltimore Teachers Union President Marietta English echoed these concerns. She called Trump’s proposal the latest example “of his administration’s stark disconnect from the true needs of public school districts across the country.”
Baltimore teacher Corey Debnam said when he heard about the Florida high school shooting, he immediately thought about what he would do if someone were to wage an attack on his school.
He said he would turn off all the lights in his third-floor classroom at Paul Laurence Dunbar High School. He would lock the door and get his students away from the windows. He would stay with the kids, keeping them calm and quiet.
Debnam said he would not want to be going after the gunman with a weapon of his own.
“No way, shape or form would I want a gun in that situation. It’s truly not my job to shoot at people. I’m here to educate students,” he said.
“Teachers aren’t trained to act like John Wayne and chase people down the hallways,” he said.