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'This Is Life And Death For Children': Teachers Sound Off On School Safety

School safety has been at the forefront following the school shooting in Florida that left 17 dead.The shootin...

Posted: Feb. 28, 2018 1:17 PM
Updated: Mar. 1, 2018 2:06 AM

School safety has been at the forefront following the school shooting in Florida that left 17 dead.

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The shooting at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School in Parkland rocked the nation after authorities say former student Nikolas Cruz walked in with an AR-15 assault rifle and gunned down students and teachers.

Many of the school shooting survivors have been demanding lawmakers ban the sale of assault-style weapons to the public.

KYW's Jessica Dean spoke to eight teachers from across the Delaware Valley for a conversation about school safety and what could be done to prevent this type of tragedy from happening.

One of the suggestions has been to arm some teachers in school, which President Donald Trump has touted.

Mark Cottom, a teacher from Chester County, is a proponent of allowing some teachers to be armed, but that in doing so, they have to be trained extensively.

"I come from a police background. I think we have to do something. Parents entrust the safety of their children with us and, right now, we cannot wait for politicians to make that decision," said Cottom. "I think it's a very small percentage of teachers who have that capability – ex-military, ex-police. It's a start to help making our schools and other children safe."

Other teachers, however, say allowing educators to be armed in a classroom is a deterrent to school safety.

"My personal opinion is that when you teach in a high school – and I teach 150 students per day – I think the opportunity for an accident, the possibility of a student accidentally grabbing the weapon is just too significant, and the possibility of an accidental discharge would be catastrophic," said Deb Ciamacca, a teacher at Conestoga High School.

"This is not a two-sentence issue, this is life and death for children, for little kids who shouldn't even know what the heck a gun is, quite frankly," said Dean Beckett, a teacher at Interboro High School.

Renee Di Pietro, a teacher at Northley Middle School, agreed, saying that students are "dumbfounded by what is going on."

"It's very frustrating because it's happening more often and it is putting on that face again and going back into your classroom and telling them we are safe and it's harder to keep telling them that," said Di Pietro. "We need things to be done - sensible gun reform, absolutely. But that's not just it, there's a festering of violence that we're allowing to happen and we don't do anything and just adding the opportunity for teachers to carry who don't sign up for that and who are not trained for that."

William Roy, a teacher at Veteran Memorial Family School, said that even if educators are armed with a handgun, it would be no match for a weapon like an AR-15 assault rifle.

"Whatever training you can get it's not going to compensate for high-powered equipment compared to low-powered equipment," said Roy.

Roy added that with the security measures schools are taking today, that students feel like they're in prison.

"We're here to teach, motivate our kids to learn to be better than us. In this situation here, now we got reverse incarceration. Our kids are in school, and they're like in prison," he said.

Jeff Deckman, a teacher at Northley Middle School, echoed that sentiment.

"We want the kids to respect us, respect what they have being in school. We don't want them to fear being there, and I feel like it could go to that level where the kids feel like it might not be a safe place to be. We made it this prison-like atmosphere where they're not respecting their teacher out of just being an adult, being an authority, being an expert in an area, but fearing them because maybe they have a gun," said Deckman.

Many of the teachers raised the issue of not having the proper resources at their schools to deal with students who might be on the edge.

"At our schools, they keep taking away counselors, they keep taking away special services. I mean, if so-called mental health is the issue, why not arm us with that, with more resources for the teachers and the students," said Terri Cotto, a teacher at Thomas H. Dudley Family School.

"We're losing resources, we're not gaining them because the money is not in our schools," said Cottom. "We can barely afford to buy supplies for our students. So are we going to hire police officers to come in? Are we going to hire new counselors to come in? We can't afford those things, so what do we do?"

Stephen Flemming, a teacher at Martin Luther King High School, says resources should be focused on preventative measures.

"I believe money, time and energy could be better focused on preventative measures. We're dealing with schools that lack counselors and mental health professionals. I think our money could be better focused on getting what we need in the school: school psychologists, counselors," said Flemming.

Teachers also agreed that society is failing students and the teaching profession currently.

"The teaching profession has been degraded over the last ten years, maybe even more," said Cotto. "Where's the respect? We used to be seen up here and now we're down here."

"Overall, as a profession, I agree the teaching profession has been denigrated but I think especially in communities of color. That's also my concern if teachers are then armed where African-American students are already targeted for exclusionary discipline, especially education, I don't see that changing with the addition of weapons in the classroom," said Flemming.

The teachers also brought up the fact they felt that if anything was going to happen regarding school safety, it would've been after the Sandy Hook Elementary School shooting in Connecticut that left 26 dead, including 20 children.

"When Sandy Hook happened and nothing happened afterwards – nothing - our politicians in Washington decided that it's OK to kill children and we're not going to do anything about it, and that is disgusting," said Beckett. "If that was OK, if Sandy Hook was not going to be the thing that made things happen, then I have no hope for this current crop of politicians. And it's time to get rid of them if they're not going to do their job."

"People are sending their precious kids off to school and they don't know if they're going to come home again or not," said Ciamacca. "I don't want to be dramatic here but when you see Sandy Hook and you see what just happened in Parkland, when you listen to the parents after what happened, I kissed my kid goodbye and I didn't know that was going to be the last time, I think people need to look at that point of view and say what am I going to do, individual parents, what am I going to do to make sure that my school – demand - that they have security guards, that we have mental health counselors. They need to demand it. If everyone picked up the phone, things would change."

The U.S. Senate is poised to consider a bipartisan bill that strengthens the federal background check system, but so far, no votes are scheduled.

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