As a former Officer of the Marine Corps and public school principal, I have a unique perspective on the issue of arming principals to protect schools. The image of a gun totin' principal is a relic of spaghetti westerns. We cannot have a scenario where a shootout at the OK Corral will get the bad guys once and for all.
The recent image of terrorized parents and their elementary aged children fleeing from a mass murder caused me gut-wrenching heartbreak and a terrifying sense of vulnerability; do I live in America, where the rule of law prevails? A domestic enemy had invaded what should be one of the safest and most precious places in our country. My heart is so broken. This killer may as well have aimed his assault weapons at my home, at my local elementary school. As an American citizen I have a non-negotiable demand — keep our children safe in our schools!
However, should we arm principals?
The weapons training in the military is extensive, yet, not everyone becomes a good shot. Shooting at targets for months in live fire exercises is required, yet, having the temperament, the emotional capacity for shooting at another human being takes a willingness and proficiency that is not for everyone. Shooting accurately at an armed and very dangerous moving target is vastly different from what we see on TV.
Again, use of a lethal weapon requires an emotional sturdiness. Ending a human life in a shootout is deeply counterintuitive to an educator. Can you imagine your former or current local elementary, middle or high school principal using deadly force? We remember them as dedicated educators who nurture the growth of their students. I say arming them is an unfair burden and adds an element of unnecessary danger of unanticipated and uncontrollable outcomes.
We cannot expect principals to be "the" deterrent when an armed, insane person attacks a school. The principal is in meetings at the district office, in classrooms, meeting with parents, reviewing instruction with a teacher or on the far end of campus with a child who needs assistance. Assuming we arm the principal, to think they will be at the right place at the right time is absurd. Principals are often alone; who is to keep them from being attacked and losing their weapon? A principal's job description cannot include being an armed guard on constant patrol.
Educators have their own strategic front line. Their challenge is to guide curriculum and instructional practices to insure that each student receives a high-quality educational experience. In addition, I am betting that every principal in America has instituted a safety plan for their school. These plans include lockdowns and evacuations. Every student and educator on campus, and local police officials, knows what to do in case of an emergency. Making sure the safety plan is well thought out and rehearsed is the responsibility of the principal.
The safety of our children is the substance of nationwide debate. The genuine question is how to create a safety net for our communities, where our schools and neighborhoods, malls, etc. are safe from harm's way. It is paramount to be proactive about the identification of mental health issues, and necessary protocols for treatment need to be addressed now! We are not helpless citizens, let's get involved! School safety is a complex problem — it will not be solved by placing a revolver on the waists of our school principals!
Jeff Schlecht retired as principal of Ashland High School in 2010. He has been a teacher, counselor and administrator, and is a former officer in the U.S. Marine Corps.