by Bill Gemmill
Professional Educators of Tennessee will neither endorse nor reject legislative proposals concerning the arming of teachers in schools. We argue that we do not want the state to mandate educators having to carry arms or for that matter to prohibit them from carrying. It is a decision that should be made at the local level. We believe that large urban districts are likely to oppose, while rural areas will likely support. One size fits all will not work. The subject is very emotional, with good arguments coming from all sides.
We anticipate that the legislature will pass a law that empowers individual school districts to determine for themselves what direction they want to take, including qualified, certified and licensed volunteer school personnel going armed in their building. We plan to offer resources and support to districts as they make their decisions, so that whatever that decision might be it will be implemented properly and safely.
We also believe that if a district decides to allow armed teachers and administrators into the schools, the decision will not be made lightly. Volunteers who go armed in the schools will be well trained and highly qualified. We have heard from teachers around the state who are expressing their willingness to defend children. Several are ex-military and former law enforcement officers who are now classroom teachers.
Professional Educators of Tennessee strongly supports the retention and expansion of the School Resource Officer (SRO) program. This is a highly effective program that serves many purposes during the school year and is invaluable where it now exists. Within the walls of schools in Nashville, for instance, SRO's build relationships with both students and adults, building a sense of trust and security. The Metro Nashville Police Department provides these wonderful officers, and their presence is reminiscent of the popular "beat cops" of yesteryear. As a former principal, I would recommend this program to any administrator.
As Tennessee progresses into the future with improved school security, we also support posting additional guidance counselors to schools and advanced training for all teachers that will help identify problem students before a tragedy like Sandy Hook, Columbine or the Aurora theaters once again rears its ugly head. Any viable option that can lead to a safer environment in our schools and communities needs to be considered.
All schools need upgraded security, whether it is as simple and reasonable as inside locks on classroom doors, or teachers going armed. The legislature's actions and the decisions that the districts make will impact the lives of all the inhabitants of school buildings across the state. Professional Educators of Tennessee stands ready to help them do it right.
Bill Gemmill is Professional Educators of Tennessee's Director of Membership & Media. He retired from Metro Nashville Public Schools as a principal in 2010.