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Survey: Majority of Teachers Don't Want Guns in Fairfax Schools

Educators don't support arming teachers or principals, but would welcome more trained, armed School Resource Officers "if money was no issue."

A group of educators from one of Fairfax County's largest teachers' unions says it doesn't want guns in schools, according to a survey released Thursday morning by the union, which goes on to say security personnel, "can help address a portion of the issue (of school security), but they cannot fix the entire problem."

The results come after nearly 500 members of the Fairfax County Federation of Teachers responded to a survey on school safety and security — in an effort to make teachers' voices a larger part of state and nationwide conversations about gun control and schools, according to the federation's president, Steve Greenburg

"The issue of guns being brought to schools and the issue of making our schools more secure is a complex effort requiring ALL personnel to be involved in the process (i.e. higher vigilance, lockdown training, physical security, etc)," one teacher wrote in the survey. "Giving staff guns is NOT going to make any school safer." 

"Teachers should not be trained to carry guns. Our responsibility is to educate the children, not shoot trespassers," another added.

Fairfax County Public Schools Superintendent Jack Dale indicated last month he doesn't support arming principals and teachers.

Virginia's legislators have mixed views on the issue. Twenty-four bills on gun control were filed by Virginia House and Senate members this session; seven of them are already dead.

A bill by Prince William County's Del. Robert G. Marshall (R-13th) to arm school personnel, requiring every school board in the state to "designate at least one qualified person for every school in the district who … may carry a concealed handgun on school property," is set to be reviewed today by the House Militia, Police and Public Safety Sub-Committee.

It's not yet clear where Gov. Bob McDonnell's newly formed state school safety task force — which convened this week — will fall. Early recommendations are expected Jan. 31. (Northern Virginia lawmaker, Sen. George Barker (D-39th) serves on the task force.)

The teachers' union survey asked the group's 4,265 members — who represent schools across the elementary, middle and high school levels — about the use of guns in schools, where the system could use extra security personnel, how safe schools are now and how to make them safer, among other topics.

Nearly 60 percent of the teachers who responded said they didn't want guns in schools; 34 percent said their answers would "depend on who has them and the circumstances surrounding that." 

Suggestions varied widely, but one largely supported by educators — if money was "no issue" — is having more trained, armed police officers, like School Resource Officers, in schools across the county, an initiative 65 percent of respondents said they would support.

Only 4 percent of teachers said they would support arming principals or teachers in school.

"More guns and gunners will ultimately make us all less safe, but highly trained personnel, i.e. police, is the only way to go if we have to have firearms," one teacher wrote.

"We have close to 2,700 people (students/staff) in our building, with four security staff and one SRO," another said. "We need more!"

FCPS spokesman John Torre said School Resource Officers, from the Fairfax County Police Department, are in place at each middle school, secondary school and high school across the county.

Putting them in each of the system's 139 elementary schools, Torre said, would cost about $20 million annually.

Part of President Barack Obama's proposed gun control measures, unveiled Wednesday, would provide $150 million to school districts to hire school resource officers, school psychologists, counselors or social workers.

But while having SROs and secure facilities can help address part of the issue, 79 percent of teachers said “they cannot fix the entire problem."

Working on the issue of school safety requires a better focus on mental health, several teachers wrote.

"Schools should take the observations of teachers seriously," one teacher wrote. "Children with emotional disabilities should be identified early and given appropriate counseling. Families that need support for these children should be identified and worked with throughout school. Society does not want to spend money or time dealing with this.”

Overall, teachers said they felt middle schools and high schools needed more security than elementary schools. But 60 percent felt the system needed to reassess its safety and security procedures at all schools.

Read more about those recommendations on Patch here.

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