Seven children and teens in the U.S. die every day from gun violence according to the Brady campaign.
When you bring your child to school, its with the expectation they’ll be safe. We’ve heard from politicians, law enforcement, and parents about how to improve safety. But what about the ones responsible for our students? We sat down with local teachers to hear what they think could make a difference in our schools, and potentially stop mass shootings in the future.
Our Malique Rankin gives us a new perspective on guns in schools, and what we should be arming our teachers with. The transcript to her full interview is below.
Malique Rankin; KX News Reporter: “When you guys see something like the Florida shooting in the headlines, does it ever occur to you that this is something that could happen here in North Dakota?”
Jason Wright; Middle School; Digital Literacy: “Well, you know, it seems to be happening more often. There are things happening, whether it’s within a school and innocent people’s lives. I don’t think we want it to happen here. But it’s happening more often and it’s scary.”
Dawn Ulmer; Private School; Business Classes: “I think it’s our responsibility to believe that it could happen because if you don’t believe it could happen, you don’t prepare right.”
Malique: “Do you think teachers should be armed in schools?”
Jody Olheiser; High School; English and Avid: “I don’t think so. I think we need to take a more proactive approach to this and I feel that if we’re arming teachers, you’re just introducing more dangers into the school setting. I think we just need to examine what the underlying issue is with this. I just don’t think that’s a good idea.”
Kalli Swenson; Middle School; PE and Careers: “I agree with not arming the teachers. Dual-hatting us in a position like that isn’t the answer. We just had a lockdown drill this morning and if I had to neglect the duties of myself as a teacher with the students are scared and huddled up to go do whatever they wanted me to do because I was the teacher that had a handgun, it doesn’t work that way. The anxiety that comes with carrying a handgun amongst the populous isn’t worth it. I use the analogy that sidewalks are a place that no cars can go. But people are still being killed on sidewalks because drivers go on there. So, are we going to put spike strips on the sidewalks? Or are we going to add danger to try and neutralize other danger? The math doesn’t add up.”
Jason: “I think that it could be done. And I think it could be done safely. I think it would be hard finding teachers. I don’t think you’re going to have a lot of people volunteering and with that would come psych evaluations. You’d have to go through many hoops but I think it could be done, if needed. And I think it could be done safely. Procedures could be put in place. It could be hard in a community like Bismarck even though we are growing because we still have that small town feel. I think people would become adjusted to it. There’s a lot of pros and there’s a lot of negatives to it too.”
Dawn: “Well I don’t believe that every teacher is going to be armed by any means. But I do believe if there are teachers willing to go through training, and willing to take the time to really learn how to protect the students and the school, it doesn’t mean they’d have to go searching for trouble, but there has to be a way, if there was an intruder, to stop the intruder before they got to more students. Or before more people were hurt. So I believe if there are teachers that are willing to do that, we have to allow them to go through the training. I guess we have to give our kids that chance. I believe it’s a good thing on a limited level.”
Malique: “And for you both that were uncomfortable with teachers having the bear the responsibility of carrying a gun, would you be comfortable if one of your coworkers was carrying a gun and was trained?”
Jody: “I just feel that if we have the money to invest in training the teachers to put them through the psych eval and everything that goes along with implementing this, I think we should use that money towards other resources instead. Again, that proactive approach. I would also think we should use those funds towards making sure that you had more than one resource officer in the school every day. They’re the ones who are properly trained in all facets of this. I would feel more comfortable with that versus placing this out of responsibility on teachers’ shoulders also.”
Kalli: “I wouldn’t mind if one of my coworkers was carrying a handgun, but I would rather the money be put towards preventing the threat from coming in in the first place. If they’re going to do some sort of screenings on the outside, adding pillars, or if there’s extra security. But don’t rob Peter to pay Paul. Don’t take from the police force, that’s already thinned the way that it is. I think we need to put out versus putting ourselves into this small pigeon hole. If you use the money, make it so they stop coming in in the first place.
Malique: “It seems like all of you are on the same page of at least having somebody who is trained and knows how to use a gun available on school grounds to respond to a situation. In the Parkland, Florida shooting, the shooting took place over 6 minutes. The resource officer that was there stood there and did nothing for 4 minutes. What would you say to that?”
Jason: “Well, I think, no matter the profession, you don’t know how you’re going to react until something happens. You can be a medic, a police officer, a firefighter. Until you’re in the situation. In our Bismarck Public School District, we have people that have been in these situations whether its the Guard, military, somehow, some way. We may already have these people that could be put in place if they wished, if they volunteered. It’s not something we want to think about, or would want. You don’t know how it’s going to happen until it happens.”
Kalli: “I don’t know the stats on the resource officer in Florida, but that was a pretty big campus from my understanding. The upstairs in the opposite corner, kids are scrambling. We say 4 minutes seem to be a long time, but it was a fire alarm to my understanding that set it off. So of course he did nothing. He was probably getting kids out of the school just like he was supposed to. I don’t like hearing those statistics as if he was at fault.”
Jason: “As teachers, we’ve already chosen to protect our students. Whether it is to hide, whether it is to flee, or to fight. And we’ve already chosen to do this. The parents who sent their children to our schools every day, I would assume- expect that if something happens, we are going to take care of them. Guns aren’t necessarily the answer, but under the right circumstances, with the right guidance, it might be an option if there isn’t money to fund resource officers. Which unfortunately, it seems to be coming down to money.”
Malique: “Dawn, one of the things you had said before was making sure schools actually are prepared for these situations like they could happen at any moment. Could you elaborate?”
Dawn: “I’ve always noticed that in education, when it comes to this situation, we kind of plan for it, but don’t actually stop and think what’s actually going to happen in that type of situation. The only way to really prepare is to think of it as a real possibility. In that case, we would want, just as the others had mentioned, we’d want a way to keep them from getting in the school initially. We are able to protect other places like airports and football games and all of those types of things, so there has to be a way that we can protect our schools the same way. So we can assess threats and actually make a plan that’s going to work in the actual situation. Not just something that, you know, we can’t just make a plan to make ourselves feel better like we have a plan. We have to make something that’s going to actually work. In many cases, the students involved were students at the school. So if we’re devising a plan and all the students know the plan, they already know what our weaknesses are. So that’s something we have to think about ahead of time too. How do we make sure that we are keeping threats outside of the school? And how do we do it very deliberately?”
Malique: “How do you all feel each of your respective schools have prepared you for a situation like this of an active shooter?”
Jason: “I think in the Bismarck Public School District, I think they’ve done a pretty good job as far as they lock-downs are concerned, the safety measures that are in place. I work at Horizon Middle School and it’s a large campus. Many of our schools have gotten pretty large. There’s a lot of doors, there’s a lot of security issues which I do think we do a really good job at. We watch the doors carefully, but you’ve heard it already. Number one, keeping the wrong people out is important. Preparing the staff and the students for a few what if scenarios. Doing the best we can with what we have right now.”
Jody: “I think at BHS, where I teach, something that I really like is that we’re going beyond that also really focusing on what could get us in this situation in the first place. In many of these instances, these were former students in the school shootings. What is it that drove them to take this action at this place at their former school or at their current school. Really having this focused approach to making sure that we’re making connections with every student that we encounter. Building those social, emotional relationships. I think really is key. I think that it is paramount to focus on this first, and I think it’s the most proactive approach that we can take. So that we don’t necessarily have to focus so much on ‘okay so how do we keep the bad guys out.’ It’s how do we take care of everyone who’s in this building who comes in and out of this building who’s a part of this school’s family. How do we create this caring nurturing environment so that they know where they’re in a situation that they feel as if I’m going to act out, I need help, that they know they have someone they can reach out to and ask for help before it escalates to this point. I think we do a really good job with that.”
Kalli: “I agree, we do what we can to prepare in the situations that there’s the possibility of it happening. But we don’t go so overboard as to make it part of the school culture that we’re always under a threat or scaring the kids and making an environment that’s hard to learn. I think there’s a good balance. We do them often enough- the drills. But we do them seriously, but then we move on.”
Malique: “So when a crisis strikes, obviously panic is ensued with students, but possibly even more so with their parents. What is something that you would like to relay to parents?”
Jason: “Well one thing I think that parents should know is that our Bismarck Police Department has done a lot of work with the teachers, the staff, as well as the students. They’ve been in talking with students. It is part of our job to do everything we can to be sure their child is safe. Planning for that, number one. Each school is going to be a little different as far as the elementary, middle and high school. You’re dealing with different aged children. It’s easier to hide certain children. But at this time, we can only use the resources that we have.”
Dawn: “I think parents, if they understood just much how incredibly important the students are to the teachers, they would realize that teachers are willing to step in and do whatever they can to keep the students safe. Teachers are an amazing group of people because they care about those kids. Often times, they are their own. We take ownership of them while they’re in the classroom. We try to find ways, within our own classroom that we can help this be a safe situation throughout the whole school.”
Malique: “If there was a change that you could see enacted now, what might that be?”
Jason: “Well the first change would be to implement, as far as the safety is concerned, at least one SRO per school. That would make a lot of people feel better. It’s going to take money to do that. Unfortunately, like a lot of things we’re needing or wanting to make better, that money isn’t always going to be there. But that would be number one. I think that would help. We are already planning and preparing and education but it would be nice to have the security of knowing that there is somebody there on campus. Not having to wait 5 minutes or 10 minutes if an emergency were to happen.”
Kalli: “I would say mental health services for youth. There’s several student that we know, you need to talk to somebody. The resources aren’t there. A student that shouldn’t be in the school, and it’s an environment where they can’t get healthy and the resources in the community are limited. And I know I’m beating a dead horse on this, but the money needs to go there too. We see it in the school system, and we’re told the resources aren’t available, and we do what we can. Mental health services for youth.”
Jody: “When it comes down to it, we have to realize these are our children and there’s no price tag that we can place on the importance of keeping them safe and making sure that they arrive safely to school. They remain safe in school and they make it home safe as well. I just think we need to get past this fear of where is this money going to come from. We need to find it. That’s just plain and simple– we need to find it and invest in our children.”
Dawn: “Even when you look on the political level, if both sides were working together to come up with ideas that were actually going to work for us, it would do us so much good. If you could take all of the finances, the millions invested in campaigns, and the millions invested in those types of things, and put them into education and have some sort of system within the schools for the mental health of the students that need help that way, and for the security of the school. I just think both sides need to work together and we need to create an environment in schools that is safe and that is protected just like other places are.”