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Principals' organizations say no to armed administrators

Two national organizations of school principals say they are strongly opposed to allowing teachers and principals to carry firearms at school.

The National Association of Elementary School Principals and the National Association of Secondary School Principals issued a joint news release in the aftermath of the horrific shooting deaths last week at Sandy Hook Elementary School in Newtown, Conn. The organizations say they reject the proposals by some that such tragedies could be averted if teachers and administrators were armed.

"A principal’s first responsibility is to foster a safe, orderly, warm, and inviting environment," the associations say. "To be effective, schools must be perceived as safe havens where students want to be. The presence of armed school officials on campus conveys the opposite message to students and to the local community. Is the school really safe, a parent might wonder, if the principal feels that he or she needs to carry a firearm? Any impression that obstructs a trusting relationship in school compromises school safety instead of enhancing it."

Policies that would allow school personnel to carry firearms might do more harm than good, the organizations assert.

"NASSP School Safety Specialist Bill Bond, who experienced a school shooting as a principal in 1997 and who has assisted in the aftermath of just about every school shooting since, reminds us that most of these incidents happen very quickly and last anywhere from a few seconds to a few minutes," the associations say. "Bond’s close examination of each shooting incident reveals a complex series of decisions that a school official would have to make to eliminate the threat while still safeguarding the school. It is not reasonable to expect that a school official could intervene in a deadly force incident, even with a modicum of training, quickly and safely enough to save lives."

The NAESP and NASSP also point to what they say is "another well-researched reality: gun-related violent behavior is closely connected to local access to guns.

"If we increase the number of guns in schools--no matter how carefully we safeguard them--we can expect an increase in gun violence," they say.

The organizations agree that there is something schools and communities can do to prevent such violence.

"It has been identified time and again by the Secret Service, the FBI, and numerous researchers as the most effective way to prevent acts of violence in schools: build trusting relationships with students and others in the community so that communication flows freely among public agencies and threats come to light quickly," the organizations say. "We need policymakers to support and promote collaboration among community-based mental health organizations, local law enforcement agencies, schools, and other key community stakeholders to create a system of community-based mental health response and threat assessment.

"These efforts should promote wellness in schools, including how to address the mental health needs of students and all community members, while responding to potential threats to community safety. Schools also need to have the means for appropriate personnel and programs to establish positive connections with the community. The solution is a matter of school culture. It’s a matter of community engagement and coordination. It’s a matter of public health. It’s a matter of funding for school resource officers. And yes, it’s a matter of gun access. The real solution is multifaceted and complex, but as with most complex problems, the simple and obvious solutions often fall far short."

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