Educators push back against guns in schools

By Kaitlin Englund
Medill Reports

As the one-month anniversary of the Parkland school shooting nears, and lawmakers debate provisions for gun safety and reform, Chicago-area educators say that arming teachers is not a viable solution and challenge the nation’s leaders to find alternative solutions.

“I think it’s so beyond ridiculous,” said Matt Walsh, a history and psychology teacher at Evanston Township High School. “The solution to guns is not guns.”

Walsh is not alone in his sentiment as other teachers have called the idea “wild,” and worse, and declare they are completely against arming teachers in schools.

Nancy Polancich, a retired teacher of 33 years, said she’s had this conversation with friends and colleagues who agreed that the idea is unfathomable.

“If we were to walk into school one fall and they would announce that we were to be trained and to be armed, then that would have been our final moment in education,” she said.

While educators largely agree that increasing the presence of guns in schools will not solve safety issues, they say there is no one-size-fits-all solution. Instead, teachers suggest that creating a safer environment requires a combination of initiatives.

“There’s no need for teachers to be armed, that’s the lazy approach,” said Anthony Clark, a special-education teacher at Oak Park and River Forest High School. “There’s interconnected issues, there’s root causes that have led to gun violence.”

Like many across the nation, Randall Harper, a teacher at Maine West High School, said he thinks the movement needs to start with reforming gun laws and looking at the issue from a mental-health perspective.

“To me, an assault-style rifle should be so strictly regulated that only a small percentage of people could get their hands on it,” said Harper. He added that lawmakers should institute more solutions like red-flag laws, which can also be known as extreme-risk-protection-order laws, to prevent people from using guns to harm themselves or others.

Adam Roubitchek, another teacher at Maine West High School, echoed Harper’s sentiment that there needs to be a larger focus on mental-health issues and legislation.

“Well absolutely we need more mental-health services,” said Roubitchek. “But those aren’t mutually exclusive. We need a way to protect our students on all fronts.

“And so, yes, we should absolutely have more mental-health services and just health services in general provided to people that need them. But then they should not be able to walk into a store and buy a gun that can kill massive amounts of people.”

However, Clark, the Oak Park and River Forest High School teacher, said that while legislation is important in changing the narrative of gun violence in schools, it must be more than that.

“Nothing stops a bullet like opportunity,” said Clark. “We have to invest in many of our urban environments, invest in our school systems, invest in infrastructure, invest in creating job opportunities… If we invest and give people options, I guarantee gun violence will decrease.”

Ultimately, while these offered solutions are part of a push to create safer schools, Roubitchek said it’s not just a school issue.
“We’ve seen it in schools, we’ve seen it in churches, we saw it in Vegas at a concert,” he said. “This is a guns issue.”