Why proposed teachers with guns bill will complicate Tennessee's classrooms | Opinion

As a lifelong educator, elementary teacher, principal, and school superintendent, I know that there is no more sacred trust that we hold than keeping our schools safe, respectful, and welcoming places for the students we educate and serve.

When parents send their precious children to us, they expect them to learn and grow free from violence and harm. I am deeply troubled and concerned about the violence that has occurred in schools across this nation, and I know that as a community, we must continue to work toward responsible solutions that create and ensure safe environments for our students and staff at home and school.

I am alarmed by proposals before the Tennessee legislature (HB 1202 and SB 1325) that would allow teachers and other school personnel to carry weapons into Pre-K through 12th-grade classrooms.

I have the opportunity to talk to teachers in Tennessee and across this nation. They want and expect us to put safety and security measures in place, listen to their voices when they report or inform us of unsafe conditions, and work in partnership with our community and law enforcement partners to train and prepare for any emergencies that might take place.

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Teachers have their plates full

Our educators and support staff work very hard daily to give our students a good and early start, to be responsible for third-grade reading, to improve graduation rates, and to support students' social and emotional well-being and overall development. They do not want to be asked to take on the additional responsibility of being armed and becoming police officers in schools. We ask a lot from our teachers and support staff who already, in addition to academic programs, provide meals, healthcare, after-school tutoring, and extended arts and athletic experiences for students. School safety is and should be a shared responsibility.

Still, Our teachers cannot and should not be expected to focus more on how to use a gun than how to teach reading, math, and science effectively, help students to become proficient with technology, or to develop the value of treating others with respect. Adding armed educators also complicates the response of law enforcement and may inadvertently put our children at even greater risk.

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Many responsible actions can and should be taken to keep our schools a sacred place for learning. These include:

  1. Strengthen access and safety entry/upgrades in all schools.

  2. Create crisis intervention/emergency planning and staff training.

  3. Establish prevention protocols that encourage observations and reporting.

  4. Foster trusting and caring relationships among adults, families, and students.

  5. Provide appropriate law enforcement presence.

  6. Communicate to families the importance of safe gun storage.

Dr. Carol Johnson-Dean
Dr. Carol Johnson-Dean

Lawmakers should oppose any legislation that expands the presence of firearms in our schools or lowers the age and access to guns, particularly those that have been shown to produce the greatest harm. Our students and educators deserve a safe place to learn and teach, which must be our top priority.

Carol Johnson Dean, Ed.D. is a former interim president of LeMoyne-Owen College

This article originally appeared on Memphis Commercial Appeal: Tennessee gun bill would complicate teachers' role in the classroom