How might things have been different when an armed man, intent on confronting an educator, walked into Frederick Douglass High School this month if Baltimore City Schools Police were allowed to carry guns on duty? As fate would have it, we know exactly what would have been different: Nothing. Douglass’ school police officer was unarmed at the time of the shooting, in accordance with state law. But his two supervisors were there, both were armed, and it didn’t stop the intruder from shooting special education assistant Michael Marks twice. Nor did the fact that the two supervisors were armed ever come into play; all three school police officers rushed to the school lobby after hearing gunshots, but none drew a weapon while bringing the assailant into custody.
A lot of other things might actually have made a difference in the incident itself and in the level of security students and teachers perceive in the building. The entrance used by the shooter — identified by police as Neil Davis, 25, the relative of a student at the school — could have had the same level of security as the entrance students use, which long had been equipped with metal detectors. The broken locks on classroom doors could have been fixed. Teachers and other staff members could have been given training on how to de-escalate tense confrontations.
The school system has scrambled to fix some of those problems since, but the efforts haven’t been altogether reassuring. There’s now a metal detector at the entrance Mr. Davis used, though students and staff say neither it nor the ones at the student entrance were used consistently and still weren’t on the first day students returned after the shooting, The Sun’s Talia Richman reported. Some physical repairs were made before students returned, but plans for all-day meetings of teachers and staff before then so they could get counseling and plan for how to make sure students felt safe upon their return were scrapped because of snow days — as if the weather could wash away trauma.
But what those involved characterized as a chaotic response at Douglass is only a small part of the issue. How many other schools in the district have broken locks on classroom doors? How many others have vulnerable entry points? How many are inconsistent in their approach to screening visitors? How many have failed to adequately train staff and students in how to respond to a security threat? How many are equipped to help students overcome the effects of trauma, whether it occurs inside school grounds or in the communities where they live?
The Baltimore City Board of School Commissioners ought to be focused on holding system administrators accountable for addressing those legitimate questions about student and staff safety district-wide. What they have done instead is to take the easiest and least effective path to improving school safety, which is to reverse their earlier 10-0 vote in opposition to state legislation that would allow school police officers to carry their weapons during the school day and instead vote 8-2 to support it.
That 10-0 vote was not made lightly. It came after extensive consultation with students, teachers, parents and other stakeholders. It was the right decision before the Douglass shooting, and it still is. Armed school police officers were present on the scene of some of the nation’s worst school shootings and did nothing to stop them, while the cases of such officers accidentally firing their guns, losing control of them or leaving them where students can access them are legion. And in Baltimore City particularly, the presence of guns in the school is as likely to deepen anxiety as to make students feel safe. City schools need to be doing everything they can to lessen the trauma students experience from the ubiquitous gun violence in many city neighborhoods, and bringing guns into what may be their only safe haven isn’t the way to do it. (For the record, we don’t think armed police officers in suburban schools are a good idea either.)
Baltimore schools have a lot of work to do after the Douglass shooting to make students, faculty and staff there and throughout the district are as safe as they can be, but a knee-jerk response like the one the school board made this week isn’t the way to do it. We urge the General Assembly to reject legislation arming school police officers.
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