Before starting these armed response teams, what was your experience with firearms? Did that influence your feelings about the program?
I’m not even a gun person. When I first did this in 2013, the most I ever shot was a BB gun. I’m not a member of the NRA or anything like that. This all started with just sitting down with our sheriff and talking about the needs. We watched some film of some active shooter situations and I thought to myself, “My goodness gracious. We have to do something different than what we’re doing.”
So I went through the training, and I felt very good about it. I’m much more comfortable with handling a gun, and with what a gun can do and what a gun can’t do.
What has the reception been like from your staff and broader community? How have you tried to calm any fears and concerns?
We’ve had some pushback. There’s some in favor and some opposed in the ranks of the teachers, but the parents overwhelmingly have supported the armed response team, so we feel pretty confident that the community in general is supportive of having a trained and qualified armed response team to back up our school resource officers and the police. That doesn’t mean it’s 100 percent support.
We had a big community forum, where we had people stand up and give their opinions in terms of what we were proposing to do, and probably 75 percent were in favor and 25 percent were opposed. Some of those opposed were teachers in the district who were very concerned about the fact that teachers are taught to teach, not to be policemen.
I understand that, but what I go back to is no one is being forced to do this, and every one of these people are very, very committed to protecting their fellow teachers and students in the unlikely event of an active shooter.
The best strategic move that I feel that I have made as superintendent is that I had the employees who volunteered to be part of the armed response team, they talked to the teachers’ union and said, “Look, this is something that we want to do. We feel committed about protecting our fellow teachers and our students, so please don’t interfere on our behalf because this is something we’re very, very passionate about doing.”
Some of the pushback to programs like these is the argument that having more firearms on campus increases the chances of accidental discharges or a gun ending up in the wrong hands. Is that something you worry about?
Those are very real concerns, and, yes, I’ve given much thought to that. There’s no way to really 100 percent eliminate that. That is a concern any time you have an armed presence in the building, if something could go astray. But the flip side of that is if you don’t have any plan, and that shooter comes in and just kills innocent kids that are hiding under tables with no way of putting out that threat, how much sense does that make?
— Caitlynn Peetz in ‘I’m Not Even a Gun Person’: A Superintendent’s Decision to Arm Teachers