Virginia educators say they are concerned about the governor’s interest in allowing teachers and staff members to carry guns into schools, noting violence prevention isn’t an issue of more guns, but more funding.
Officials with three education associations—the Virginia Association of Secondary School Principals (VASSP), the Virginia Association of Elementary School Principals (VAESP) and the Virginia Association of School Superintendents (VASS)—released a statement Friday on the issue.
It came shortly after the National Rifle Association (NRA) called for "armed security" around schools but was in response to statements earlier this week by Virginia Gov. Bob McDonnell.
The education organizations said they appreciate Gov. McDonnell’s efforts to begin talks about increased safety in schools in light of the mass shootings at Sandy Hook Elementary School, but they think other options should be explored.
The Republican governor discussed Virginia schools during a Tuesday interview on WTOP.
When asked about the idea of allowing adults, supervisors, principals and teachers to be armed inside schools in Virginia, the governor said the idea should at least be discussed.
"If people were armed, not just a police officer but other officials who were trained and chose to have a weapon, certainly there would have been an opportunity to stop aggressors from coming into a school,” McDonnell said.
Fairfax County School Board members expressed their opinions about the issue Thursday during their last regular meeting of the year . Elizabeth Schultz (Springfield) said she doesn't think teachers should be armed, and many of her colleagues agreed.
Ryan McElveen (at large) said the board should take leadership when it comes to the issue of safety in the schools and whether it's a good idea to arm educators.
"Sure we could install bulletproof glass or go back to the days with windows with grills. But we need to make those small steps. The Board needs to take leadership," he said. "I think the last thing we need in Fairfax County is 20,000 more guns to arm our employees with."
Since the Dec. 14 shootings in Newtown, the board has received multiple phone calls from concerned parents. Tamara Derenak Kaufax (Lee) addressed parents' concerns by reassuring them that the schools are providing the best safety measures for students.
"I know some of you are looking to us as your leaders and we are doing everything and providing the best safety measures that are known to us," she said. "What I want you all to know is that we are here for you. We are listening to you. We understand your fears and we are here to keep you as safe as possible."
Ilryong Moon, chairman at large, said faculty and staff care about each child in the Fairfax County school system. Superintendent Jack Dale told parents who attended the meeting FCPS employees patrol the areas around the schools in the county to reassure safety for all students.
"We’re also continually trying to refine and improve. Our staff is trained to be vigilant, and all of our schools are locked so no one can gain access without approval," Dale said.
School safety is a deep-rooted issue and research indicates a “thoughtful” approach to safety in schools, one that goes beyond school campuses and into the communities, is needed in order to protect children, officials with the three associations said.
“ … We are concerned, however, with the governor’s interest in permitting staff to carry firearms as a possible deterrent to violence in schools,” officials wrote in the joint statement issued Friday. “We believe the problem is more complex and the conversation needs to encompass other and more diverse solutions …”
Additionally, educational practices and programs that support the social, behavioral and emotional needs of the students is needed, state educators said.
“We cannot and should not turn our schools into fortresses,” said Ben Kiser, VASS president and superintendent of Gloucester County Schools.
“Effective prevention cannot wait until there is a gunman in a school parking lot; we need resources such as School Resource Officers, assistant principals, mental health supports and threat assessment teams in every school and community so that people can seek assistance when they recognize that someone is troubled and requires help.”
The roles of school resource officers and assistant principals should be well defined, followed by an increase in funding for both positions—funding that was decreased by the state general assembly, officials said.
The Virginia Standards of Quality should be amended and require there be one principal in each school building, educators wrote in the release. It should also require an assistant principal be in place for schools with 400 or more students, which is different from the current requirement of 600 students, they said.
Funding for support staff and non-classroom personnel has also been cut by lawmakers, educators said, but employees in these positions are vital because they could serve as the “eyes and ears” of the schools.
"Our children deserve better," former VASSP president Carolyn Bernard said. “With continuous cuts, existing staff are being forced to try to accomplish much more with less. It is becoming difficult to focus on developing relationships and encouraging engagement with students."
Educators suggest school construction funds could potentially be used to encourage local school divisions to address security. Many older buildings and facilities were constructed prior to the current guidelines and regulations, educators said in the joint statement.
NRA Calls for 'Armed Security' Around Schools
Del. Marshall: Some School Staff should Carry Guns
Sen. Warner: Newtown a 'Game Changer' on Guns
Speak Out: Should Teachers Be Armed?
Kingstowne Patch Editor Raytevia Evans contributed to this article.