Pennsylvania School Safety Report: Don’t Arm Teachers

A new report by a Pennsylvania state House committee recommends that teachers or other school staff shouldn't be given weapons and only trained law enforcement officials should be armed in schools in the state. Among other suggestions, the committee recommends that only school personnel acting as school police officers, resource officers or security officers, should be armed.

The committee was formed in the spring partly in response to the school shooting last year in Newtown, Connecticut. The committee included Rep. Seth Grove, R-Dover Township, and Rep. Mike Regan, R-Carroll Township, writes Angie Mason of The York Daily Record.

The committee made its recommendation after discussions with law enforcement agencies and education organizations.

The recommendation about who should be armed was "one of those things where we wanted to make sure we were very clear (about)," Grove said, noting the committee was bipartisan and that he supports the Second Amendment. But in a school environment, the only armed personnel should be trained law enforcement, he said, noting that security professionals say that those working security should be focused solely on that.

Don Smith, emergency planning and response management coordinator with the Camp Hill-based Center for Safe Schools, supports the committee's recommendation. According to Smith, he likes a suggestion that the state consider prioritizing and offering incentives to districts to update facilities with safety as a focus when they seek state reimbursement for a construction project.

Smith said some of the other recommendations reflect best practices that many districts are already doing. Grove said the next step would be for appropriate state committees to look at the recommendations. Regan said he expected some proposed legislation could come out of it.

The report notes that schools should have stable funding. It encourages the General Assembly to provide consistent support for the Safe Schools Targeted Grant program, which provides funding for various programs to address school violence or for school officers.

Regan proposed a measure that became part of that program — giving priority to schools that hire retired law enforcement. "I'm hopeful that at some point we'll have the money to give to the schools to do what they want, and some instruction on what is successful," he said.

Some recommendations could take funding, either at the state or district level. The report recommends that some districts might do on their own while others might not or might choose to wait to see if the state supplies funds, Grove said.

Smith noted that school safety funding increased after the Columbine school shooting in 1999, then decreased as time went on. "What's going to be key with this — there's got to be a continual funding stream," he said.

Previously, the Arkansas Board of Private Investigators and Private Security Agencies voted to allow 13 school districts around Arkansas to continue to use teachers, administrators and other school staff as armed guards.

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