Gov. Bill Lee indicated this week that he’s open to legislation that would arm Tennessee teachers in the wake of the most recent school shooting in Uvalde, TX.
Lee made the remarks in an interview with Chalkbeat.
Q: After the 2018 mass shooting at a high school in Parkland, Florida, several Tennessee lawmakers proposed letting some teachers carry guns at school. The bills generally stalled, but there’s talk again of turning some teachers into armed security guards. Would you support such legislation?
A: I have said before that I would be in favor of a strategy that includes training and vetting and a very strategic and appropriate plan for (arming teachers). There are a lot of details that have to be right for that to be considered. But if lawmakers brought it forth, I would certainly consider it.
In related news, a group of pastors this week delivered a letter to Lee’s office calling for action to curb gun violence.
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We teachers are hearing and feeling this news differently than most. If you are a teacher and you are feeling like this is all hitting more acutely, please know that you’re not imagining it. The shock and trauma of it all is shared by anyone who hears of the horror that is our national nightmare of gun violence compounded by politicians and leaders who seemingly live with acceptable levels of slaughtered children. But for us – we who hold other peoples’ children in our hearts, we who see other people’s children in our dreams, we who carry other people’s children in our minds when we eat, walk, or try against all odds to take a break, events like yesterday’s impact us differently.
We can picture ourselves in the classroom, in the hallways, hiding in our closets with our students. We refresh our memories of the countless active shooter drills we do during inservice and throughout the school year. We wonder how we would/will react if/when the unspeakable happens. We know these feelings and have the muscle memory of these actions more than anyone else in society. We who chose majors because we wanted to help kids learn how to decode, add, research, and create. We who chose jobs that do not pay enough for the work listed in the job description, let alone pay enough for work that’s actually needed to get the job done. We who chose jobs that include coaching our kids through heartbreaks, runny noses, embarrassing moments, celebrations, crises, and loss. Those are our kids.
We feel differently about this than people who didn’t make similar choices. It hurts more. It’s scarier.
Teachers, we are not alone, and it is OK to feel like there’s something missing. There is something missing. The respect for the lives of the children we teach. Love for the humanity of the students we help grow. Acknowledgement of the role teachers play in development of safety in the hearts and minds of children that then gets shattered due to the actions of murderers, made easier by the actions of leaders who make access to assault weapons even easier, access to mental health and healthcare even harder, and inaction of leaders who wait for things to blow over. There is not a correct way to feel right now.
In response to previous slaughter of school children, the nation and our schools were stunned into circles, reflection, and extra access to therapists and counselors. Our leaders have failed us to such a degree that such slaughter is no longer unique enough to provide such essential emotional support. So again, in the face of a systemic failure to provide teachers with what they need to complete the task at hand, we’ll need to dig deep. We’ll need to seek support and resources from our colleagues, friends, family, and one another. We are left to create the supports our students need to explore their feelings and fears about the ways in which our leaders have let us down and failed to protect us.
What has become clear is that no one is coming to save us. Politicians who are empowered to make change that might stop this slaughter of our children are either incapable or unwilling to take action for countless reasons: an unwillingness to upset their donors, an unwillingness to take risks, an unwillingness to give the enemy a ‘weapon’ to use during midterms – none of those address the fear or stop the bleeding.
In the months and years after the Sandy Hook massacre teachers experienced a seismic shift in our practices, work, and behaviors in school settings. In addition to the planning, instruction, assessment, and analysis of decoding, research, and addition, we had to learn how to barricade doors with our classroom chairs and desks. (We learned which chairs made it harder to open the door from the outside). We had to learn how to stop bullet holes from bleeding with tampons. (We made jokes about it in the hopes that it would help make the experience less bleak). We had to learn how to dress wounds. We had to learn how to keep our children quiet while an admin playing the part of a gunman stalked the halls and tried to overcome our barricades. We had to keep an emergency kit of gloves, tourniquets, bandages, and blood-stopper well stocked. Surely, we thought, lockdown drills were a temporary measure while leadership figured out a plan to stop the massacre of children. The last 10 years have demonstrated that it is not the case, that there is an acceptable number of slaughtered children before action might be taken by politicians and people whose job it is to regulate the threats to our safety and the safety of children. That there is an acceptable amount of the blood of kids before anyone else will do anything. Because to be clear: teachers did do something.
Teachers changed the way we taught, changed the way we talked, changed the way we did our seating charts, changed the way our windows looked, changed the way our doors looked, changed the way we spoke about violence, changed the way we spoke about what to do in very scary situations, changed the way we addressed the notion of murder with children, and so much more. Teachers acted swiftly and immediately to address the trauma inflicted upon us and upon our students by both gun violence and by ineffectual leadership that lacks initiative, creativity or willpower. So, let’s be clear: it is not that there was no action in response. Teachers acted swiftly, decisively, and in ways that were traumatic and effective.
We are all we have. Isolation, disconnection, dismemory, a sense of powerlessness reinforced by talking heads and mealy-mouthed editorials all serve the forces that seek to make this murder of children another headline and another news cycle. We can make efforts to slow it down by connecting with our neighbors, by connecting with our colleagues, by reducing isolation, and by working together. If you are not yet a member of your teacher’s union or association, you should become one now. If you are not yet a member of a professional organization that meets regularly to check in on your health and well-being you should join one now. If you are not spending time with your colleagues to address the ways in which you can help each other through times of celebration as well as times of trauma you should do so now. It is yet again us who are devising and creating solutions to the problems caused by the failure of leadership and a system that cares more about test scores and money than the humanity of ourselves and of our students. No one is coming to save us, and we’re better together.
Greg O’Loughlin is a teacher and the founding Director of The Educators’ Cooperative (EdCo), an independent nonprofit that serves as a mutual aid network of support, development, and resources for and by ALL teachers. Learn more about him and the work of EdCo at www.educatorscooperative.org
For more on education politics and policy in Tennessee, follow @TNEdReport
At a legislative committee meeting today where state representative Andy Holt, often the purveyor of terrible ideas, advocated for allowing Tennessee teachers to carry concealed weapons at school, Commissioner of Education Penny Schwinn seemed unable or unwilling to stand for teachers. The Tennessean has more on how Penny dropped the ball:
Ahead of the 2020 legislative session, at least one lawmaker is already expressing interest in allowing teachers to carry guns in schools.
It’s a measure some Republican lawmakers have pushed unsuccessfully in recent years, and one that Education Commissioner Penny Schwinn on Monday declined to give a position on.
“I’m not in a place to comment on that at this time,” Schwinn said after a House budget hearing when asked whether she supported the notion of arming public school teachers. “We’re focusing on the budget hearing.”
Apparently, the issue of allowing guns in schools was too much to handle for the former educator who also noted many times during the legislative hearing that she’s also a parent.
Does Schwinn want teachers at the schools her children attend to be armed? Does she, someone with classroom experience, think it’s wise to arm teachers?
It seems she doesn’t know. Or, well, she’s just unwilling to challenge a bully and blowhard like Holt, known more for his obnoxious cowbell on the House floor than for his legislative efficacy.
Schwinn is running a department that is in disarray and now seems unable (unwilling) to stand up for Tennessee teachers and students when they need it most.
All of this raises yet another question: What does Governor Bill Lee think? Is the HVAC mogul a supporter of arming teachers? Does he support Holt’s idea? Will he continue to back a Commissioner of Education who can’t be bothered to offer support for teachers on a pretty straightforward question?
For more on education politics and policy in Tennessee, follow @TNEdReport
Today, legislators in a House subcommittee advanced a bill (HB2208) that would allow school districts to create policy allowing teachers to carry guns in schools.
Here’s what’s interesting: No one wants this bill but the lawmakers who voted for it. Governor Haslam has indicated he’s opposed. Law enforcement representatives spoke against it. The state’s largest association of teachers issued a statement opposing the bill. It’s not even clear there’s an agency willing to conduct the necessary training.
The bill is scheduled to be heard in the full House committee and in a Senate Committee next week.
Here’s the Tennessee Education Association email to members on the bill:
TEA is against a bill before the legislature to allow arming designated teachers across Tennessee. We’ve stopped similar proposals in Tennessee before. Laws in other states where teachers can carry guns in schools if they choose are dangerous to students and faculty alike.
Tennessee state law currently allows distressed rural counties that can’t afford SROs to designate teachers to act as security, if they undergo POST (police officer) training, if the local board votes for it, the director designates, and the teacher volunteers. The state doesn’t provide SRO funding.
HB2208 before the General Assembly opens this option to ALL systems. This is wrong.
TEA is working to increase funding for SROs, and other law enforcement resources to provide protection for our schools. Again, safety is not arming teachers. Safety is effective professional security.
Some of you may argue that this is the new norm. I refuse to accept that. This country is made up of way too many good people to concede to a culture of fear. Because let’s face it, fear is what is at the heart of this whole argument. Fear that someone will come take what is yours. Fear that you will be injured by a fellow human being. Fear that a loved one will be hurt. Fear that you will be oppressed by the government.
We forget that schools are not just about reading, writing, and arithmetic. I don’t expect my kids’ teachers to function as surrogate parents, but I do expect them to help open their eyes to the wonders of the world. We need to understand that like it or not, schools and the environment they foster get translated into a definition of our society. As those children exit school and enter the adult world, they take with them outlooks and philosophies shaped by their K-12 experiences. It’s one of the reasons schools were started in the first place. So we need to constantly ask ourselves, is my kid’s school creating an environment I’d like to see replicated in society?
There are four bills (could be more out there) that I am currently tracking that deal with guns in schools. I wanted to break down these bills so that you can keep an eye on them. Some of these bills deal only with guns, but some can take away funding from schools if they don’t comply. As we have seen from the Great Hearts drama, the Tennessee Department of Education will withhold funds.
This legislation would allow faculty or staff, if properly trained, to carry firearms on K-12 public school property. If staff wants to carry a firearm, they must receive the same training that a school resource officer would have to complete. The Tennessee Code Annotated lists this as the training SROs most go through.
TCA 49-6-4217: Employment standards for school resource officers.
(a) Training courses for school resource officers shall be designed specifically for school policing and shall be administered by an entity or organization approved by the peace officers standards and training (POST) commission.
(b) School resource officers shall participate in forty (40) hours of basic training in school policing within twelve (12) months of assignment to a school. Every year thereafter they shall participate in a minimum of sixteen (16) hours of training specific to school policing that has been approved by the POST commission.
(c) Within thirty (30) days of the beginning of the school term, each LEA shall publish and deliver to the commissioner an annual report of the employment standards adopted by the LEA. The report shall include a description of the LEA’s methods of enforcing the employment standards.
The bill also states that staff can only carry guns if there are no SROs in that school. Finally, the bill states that if the LEA bans guns, they are civilly liable for any criminal activity that takes place.
(B) Any local education agency that prohibits persons from possessing and carrying a handgun pursuant to subdivision (f)(2)(A) shall be civilly liable for any damages, personal injury or death that results from a criminal act by any person not authorized to be in the school in which the prohibition was in effect.
This bill does give local control to the individual LEAs to make the decision to allow staff to carry guns at school. It looks like many counties around middle Tennessee are trying to add SROs into every school. If a school district has SROs in every school, the LEA cannot allow guns in any school.
This bill is very similar to the bill above. It would require each LEA to have a school resource officer OR similarly trained staff. A school district could save money by not hiring a SRO but allow a staff member to be trained.
The most important part of this bill comes next.
(c) If an LEA fails to establish a plan in compliance with this section or fails to follow a plan established pursuant to this section, the commissioner may withhold state funds, in an amount determined by the commissioner, from the LEA until the LEA is in compliance.
Yes. You have read that correctly. If a school decides not to have an armed staff member or SRO in their school, Kevin Huffman could withhold funds. As Nashville knows, that could end up in the millions.
This piece of legislation goes further than the previous two. This legislation would allow any employee of a pre-K or K-12 to carry a firearm if they meet certain requirements. Even if there is a SRO in the school, staff may still go armed.
The employees must meet these requirements:
Have approval from the School Board.
Posses a hand gun carry permit.
Complete SRO training at least one year before school board approval.
The LEA must notify the commissioner of education three times a year.
This bill also has local control. The staff member must get approval from the local school board before they can go armed. The school board could deny that request.
This bill has some differences from the other Nicely/Watson bill including the types of bullets, the type of training, and liability coverage.
Here are the requirements to be able to possess a firearm at school:
Must be a hand gun permit holder.
Must take a 40 hour basic police training that is approved by the LEA. This is different than the SRO training that previous bills have cited.
Must use frangible bullets or similar bullets, as approved by the Peace Officers Standards and Training commission.
This part deals with the liability if the teacher hurts or kills someone.
(B) No local school district in which the director of schools authorizes a faculty or staff member to possess or carry a firearm pursuant to this subdivision (e)(8) shall be held liable in any civil action for damages,
injuries, or death resulting from or arising out of a faculty or staff member’s actions involving a firearm carried or possessed on school property unless the board of education or superintendent knew of or
intentionally solicited or procured the faculty or staff member’s actions involving a firearm that resulted in the harm.
I am no lawyer, but this reads that a LEA cannot be held liable if a teacher accidentally shoots and kills a student unless the LEA “solicited or procured” the staff members actions.
That’s the first look at the guns in schools legislation. It is a long process to becoming law and many of these bills could change drastically with amendments. Keep following Tennessee Education Report for updates regarding these bills.