Teachers shun gun proposal in Gresham, Troutdale
Many, if not most, local teachers are giving a federal proposal — made in the wake of the latest school-shooting tragedy — that teachers should be armed in the classroom a resounding thumbs-down.
"I would not carry a gun," said Julie Frediani, a first grade teacher at Hollydale Elementary School in Gresham. "We are speaking about it in teacher circles and I have not run into any teacher friends that are pro arming teachers. I would change professions."
Those strong feelings are officially backed by Oregon's teachers union. After the proposal was floated by President Donald Trump and other national leaders, the Oregon Education Association indicated it will not support any proposal to arm educators.
"Oregon has had several tragic school shootings, and we know that arming teachers is not the solution," said John Larson, president of the Oregon Education Association, in a statement. "Bringing more guns into our schools does not protect students and educators from gun violence. We reject the idea of arming school staff."
The latest multi-victim school shooting occurred on Wednesday, Feb 14, when a former student allegedly unleashed a savage attack on students and staff at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School in Parkland, Fla., killing 14 students and three staff members and injuring many more. The incarcerated suspect, Nikolas Cruz, a former student at the school, faces 17 counts of premeditated murder.
In East Multnomah County, the issue of school shootings hits particularly close to home. On June 10, 2014, a Reynolds High School student killed 14-year-old freshman Emilio Hoffman and wounded physical education teacher Todd Rispler in an attack at the Troutdale school. The student gunman committed suicide in a restroom as law enforcement closed in on him.
Reynolds High social studies teacher Evan Selby, who was teaching at Reynolds then, said arming teachers "is the wrong message to send. It is taking us farther down the road of gun violence. The problem is we have too many guns."
As in the wake of past school shootings, some leaders, including Trump, urged schools to arm teachers with guns after the Parkland rampage. The president tweeted on Feb. 22, "Highly trained, gun adept, teachers/coaches would solve the problem instantly, before police arrive. GREAT DETERRENT!"
"A "gun free" school is a magnet for bad people. ATTACKS WOULD END!" he tweeted the same day. He later suggested armed teachers should get "a bit of a bonus."
Arming 20 percent of teachers, as suggested, would amount to about 700,000 educators packing heat, Frediani said.
She and others question whether that would make schools safer. Armed security guards did not enter the Florida high school during the shooting. What if a disturbed student grabbed for a teacher's gun? What about an accidental discharge?
"A lot of things can go wrong," Selby said. "We need to do more to limit the number of automatic weapons. An AR-15 was used at Reynolds shooting. They do a lot of damage."
Margot Kelly, MLA Elementary's music teacher, said arming teachers is not "the right way to solve problems."
Selby added, "We didn't get into this profession to be armed. I never want to be in the position to shoot a student or former student."
Teachers not only oppose the idea on principle, but also bemoan how it would be yet another task piled on an already overflowing job description.
"We already try to solve the world's problems on the backs of teachers," said Frediani.
Many schools now have food banks, clothes closets, and some even provide laundry facilities. Schools help families sort out housing issues and many other problems not directly related to the core mission of teaching and learning.
"We have this huge crisis of mass murder in America, and now we're asking the teachers, 'We'll need you to help us solve that,'" Frediani said.
"We don't need that stress on top of the huge stress we already carry," said Kelly.
Immediately following the Feb. 14 shooting, Gresham-Barlow School District Superintendent Katrise Perera issued a letter to the community, noting, "We train our students and staff on how to respond to various incidents, including intruders."
In nearby Sandy, law enforcement teaches educators in the Oregon Trail School District "Run, Hide, Fight" protocols in case of an active shooter or other dangerous circumstance.
Along with fire drills, students and staff participate in various exercises, practicing different procedures depending on whether a threat is outside or inside the school. Frediani said it is a difficult balancing act, especially with the youngest students, to take part in the drills without alarming them.
"I have a lot of kids in my class with a lot of stress, who have very difficult lives. I want them to be prepared, but it's a thin line," Frediani said.
Superintendent Perera said the Gresham-Barlow district also has "a strong partnership with the Gresham Police Department. Law enforcement works with school administration to develop the protocols and procedures we use in the event of an emergency."
Most high schools and some middle schools have armed police on campus called resource officers.
Corbett has email-monitoring software that flags student email containing profanity, threats to themselves or others, or various other warning signs.
A good chunk of the school bonds voters recently passed in Reynolds and Gresham-Barlow districts is dedicated to improving safety at all the schools. Reynolds has already constructed secured vestibules and made other security upgrades at its schools. The secured entries prevent people from coming in the front door without going through the school office. The schools are also adding cameras and electronic systems to remotely lock doors.
Gresham-Barlow has dedicated $13 million of the bond for safety improvements. The district shared security plans with local police.
"Law enforcement officials are looking forward to the safety improvements that will cover Gresham-Barlow schools," Gresham police Sgt. Mike Amend said in a statement. "We think it will improve our response time and our ability to handle any potential situations."
Teachers also appreciate the upgrades.
"I would have to step into the hall to lock my door," Frediani noted. She keeps her key handy, just in case.
Gresham-Barlow's Perera also asked the community to help out in the effort.
"We also need your help to keep our schools safe. Members of our school community should keep a watchful eye at all times."
She asked parents to "please remind your student to notify school staff whenever they see something unusual. Warning signs may be spotted on social media or overheard during a discussion. It's important to report anything you hear or see that's alarming. The adage, 'If you see something, say something,' is more important than ever."
"I didn't become a teacher to carry a weapon," Frediani said. "If I wanted to do that, I'd go to the police academy."
Say something ...