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Maxwell: Reasonable people do not want teachers to be armed

By Bill Maxwell | Opinion columnist
Published: March 2, 2018 Updated: March 2, 2018 at 12:27 PM
Alfonso Calderon, 16, addresses a the crowd on the steps of Leon High School in Tallahassee, Fla., Feb. 20, 2018. A week after the mass shooting at the Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School, Florida‚\u0080\u0099s Republican-dominated state government faces unprecedented pressure to pass legislation addressing gun violence. (Audra Melton/The New York Times) XNYT25

Public school teachers, arguably Americaís most convenient scapegoats, are again thrust into the center of a problem not of their making, a problem that they cannot fix.

This time, in the wake of the mass shooting at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School in Parkland where 17 people were killed, politicians who are lapdogs of the National Rifle Association are proposing to make teachers responsible for the lives of our children.

They want teachers to carry firearms. In addition to being expected to impart knowledge and practical skills, teachers will be expected to be police officers.

Each time I hear an elected official advance this proposal, I think of teachers over the years who have been killed or injured protecting their students from gunmen. Exactly what do we expect of classroom teachers in todayís United States? Are we justified in asking them to do more than they do now, even arm themselves to protect our children?

If salaries and other funding are primary measures, very few school districts place high value on teaching as a profession. Teacher salaries are too low. Their hours, which includes work they take home, are extremely long. Training and retraining are constant. Teachers spend a lot of their own money for supplies their districts do not provide. Many spend afterschool hours nurturing their students and volunteering. Most never see opportunities to advance. Yet the profession is widely disrespected by politicians and too many parents.

In Florida, Republican lawmakers want to create a voluntary Florida Sheriffís Marshal Program. Under the program, teachers "may carry concealed, approved firearms on campus. The firearms must be specifically purchased and issued for the sole purpose of the program. Only concealed carry safety holsters and firearms approved by the sheriff may be used under the program."

Some teachers I spoke with said they would resign if teachers on their campuses were armed. Dealing with life-and-death situations in the classroom is unimaginable, they said.

The daily responsibilities of helping students earn high scores on standardized tests, bus and hall duties, communicating with parents by email, meeting parents face to face, counseling troubled students, teaching classes and preparing lessons challenge the stamina of the most experienced teachers.

Adding 100 or more hours of firearms training and performing the role of a first responder to the duties of teachers are a recipe for disaster.

The other night, I watched 16-year-old Alfonso Calderon, a student who survived the Parkland shooting, speak with CNNís Don Lemon about President Donald Trumpís proposal to arm teachers. This young manís wisdom, his clear understanding of the essential role of teachers, should shame Trump and other Republicans beholden to the NRA.

"I donít know if Donald Trump has ever been to a public high school, but as far as Iím aware, teachers are meant to be educators," Calderon said. "Theyíre meant to teach young minds how to work in the real world. They are not meant to know how to carry AR-15s. They are not meant to know how to put on Kevlar vests for the other students or themselves.

"This is not what we stand for. We stand for small policy changes and maybe possibly big ones in the future. Because, right now, I am pretty sick of having to talk about teachers being armed. Because that is not even a possibility in my mind. I would never want to see my teachers have to do that and neither do they want to do that."

No reasonable person in todayís America believes that our schools will return to being what Republicans disparagingly refer to as "gun-free zones." Reasonable people believe that police officers and other professionals should be permitted to carry weapons. They also believe that school entrances and exits should be improved and that other security measures, such as metal detectors, should be installed.

Reasonable people simply do not want teachers carrying concealed weapons while standing before a roomful of students. They do not want teachers to become armed combatants.