Arming teachers not a priority in school safety discussion

SALT LAKE CITY (AP) — Utah school board members contemplating ways Friday to keep students safe discussed increasing security at schools entrances and adding social workers and psychologists, but barely mentioned arming teachers.

The two-hour discussion came two days after thousands of students staged walkouts nationally demanding safer campuses following the deadly Florida school shooting.

Board member Terryl Warner was the only one who brought up the issue or arming teachers, saying parents and educators don’t want teachers to be required to carry guns. Warner, who serves on a newly formed school safety commission created by state lawmakers, said she received suggestions on school safety from about 1,500 people.

“Teachers are not trained to be gun carriers, unless they want to,” Warner, a social worker at the Cache County attorney’s office, said after the meeting. “I’m not sure we should be putting that responsibility on teachers if they’re not interested.”

She said the Utah School Safety Commission has discussed the idea in its two meetings but is still sifting through ideas. The group includes education, public safety, mental health and gun rights groups, but no elected officials or gun-control advocates.

Utah is among at least eight states that allow, or don’t specifically prohibit, concealed weapons in K-12 schools.

School board member Linda Hansen said afterward she’s heard teachers don’t feel comfortable being required to have guns.

“That’s their profession and they should be able to choose how they feel about it,” said Hansen, of West Valley City. “It shouldn’t be required.”

Sydnee Dickson, state superintendent of public instruction, said after the meeting she worries about the accuracy of teachers shooting in schools and asking them to take on the additional burden.

“Teachers have a mindset first of protection and care for their students,” Dickson said. “Shifting into the mindset of taking out an active shooter or being the front line to take out the perpetrator, that’s a different mindset and sometimes it’s hard to do both.”

The board spent most of its time talking about how to balance fortifying schools while not making students feel like they are in prison.

There was general agreement that increasing security at school entry points with cameras and locks would be wise, but acknowledged that funding is tight. They also noted each school building is unique, depending on the geographical location and design.

Dickson urged the board to prepare a detailed funding request for the 2019 legislative session.

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