Thursday, August 22, 2019 1:00 am
What-might-have-been story from Ohio reinforces folly of arming teachers
Under Indiana law, school districts can authorize teachers to carry guns, but opponents of the policy fear the guns can end up in a student's hands. Two first-graders have proved that point in Ohio.
Highland Local Schools, about 160 miles southeast of Fort Wayne, authorized teachers and school staff to carry concealed weapons about a year ago, according to the Columbus (Ohio) Dispatch. In mid-March, the district's transportation director left her pistol in an unlocked case near her desk. Vicky Nelson had brought her first-grade grandson to work and left him briefly in the transportation office with another first-grader, the daughter of Christine Scaffidi, the assistant transportation director.
When Scaffidi entered the office, a short walk from the elementary school, she saw the handgun on the desk – removed from its case – and the children nearby.
“I'm assuming the child picked up the gun from behind the desk and had been holding it,” Superintendent Dan Freund said.
Freund did not report the incident to local law enforcement, but it recently came to light through a resident's Facebook post. Nelson was removed from the district's concealed-carry program and in early April she was suspended without pay for three days. She was fortunate.
Ohio schools require training for teachers and staff who carry guns. Legislation that would have granted immunity to someone who exercised “justified use of force” on school property died in the last session of the Indiana General Assembly because the House author of the bill opposed training requirements added by the Senate. Rep. Jim Lucas, R-Seymour, refused to compromise on House Bill 1253 because he considered the Senate-approved version a “gun control” measure.
Wiser heads oppose guns in the classroom – with or without training. After calls to arm teachers escalated with the Parkland, Florida, high school shooting in early 2018, Indiana Superintendent of Public Instruction Jennifer McCormick said it was a “very bad idea.”
“We lose our keys, for God's sake,” she said at the time. “I couldn't imagine trying to keep track of guns and the ownership. Where do we put them? There's so many layers to that.”
Noblesville Stands Together, a parent group organized after a student and teacher were injured by a student who brought a gun to his Noblesville Middle School classroom last year, opposed Lucas' bill, which also would have allowed taxpayer dollars to be spent on firearms training.
“Arming educators sends a signal that we are giving up and accepting this crisis as the new reality,” the group said in a statement in February. “Instead of arming educators with guns, lawmakers should start by arming our schools with more psychologists and counselors so kids dealing with trauma get care before they become broken. Educators need to be focused on teaching our students.”
Bad legislation has a history of returning to Indiana's legislative agenda repeatedly. When the next bill surfaces that would make it easier for schools to arm teachers and staff, consider what might have happened in Ohio's Highland Local Schools last spring.