The Arizona Legislature seems poised to ensure school safety by arming teachers, despite the qualms of many school administrators like Payson Unified School District Superintendent Ron Hitchcock.
The Sandy Hook massacre galvanized school districts and legislatures across the nation and spurred efforts to bolster campus security. Gov. Jan Brewer proposed restoring money cut from previous budgets to help schools pay for police officers on campus to serve as school resource officers.
Several bills that would give teachers the right to bring guns to school have also advanced.
But will these measures go far enough or too far?
In the Legislature, Senator Rich Crandall (R-Mesa) has introduced a bill that has passed the House and now is making its way through the Senate. The bill focuses on rural schools at least 20 miles and 30 minutes away from a police station that don’t have a school resource officer. The bill allows teachers, administrators and retired police officers to carry a gun in those rural schools after going through a gun safety course.
Proponents say this is a good first step, but those opposed to arming staff prefer to have a student resource officer (SRO) on campus.
Superintendent Hitchcock believes teachers should focus on teaching, not carrying a gun.
“I am a fan of SROs, certainly much more than arming staff,” he said.
At Payson Elementary School (PES), Principal Donna Haught brought together parents, the SRO and staff to discuss how to increase safety measures after the December shooting at Sandy Hook.
“The safety team met and we decided we had a lot of parents who would wait in the hallways to pick up their students,” she said. “It was really crowded at the end of the school day.”
PES now requires parents that pick up and drop off students to come through the office or wait outside until their student gets out of class.
“Everyone says this has made a dramatic change,” said Haught.
She said the safety committee also suggested locking any outside doors. Now parent and visitor traffic comes through the office.
An aide does sit by the south facing door to let parents and students into the school in the morning. Haught hopes to add a fence going from the trash bins to the wall that will complete the fencing around the school. But for now, she said, the aide lets students in every morning.
PES also stopped allowing last-minute changes to bus drop-offs.
“Parents used to call five minutes before the buses would leave and request a change in how their student got home,” said Haught.
She called other districts in the state and discovered many have a strict 24-hour rule on changing how a student gets home. Haught does not see requiring a 24-hour notice. She said so long as the school receives a written note of a change in a student’s travel plans, the school will accommodate homebound travel changes.
Haught said she and Payson Police Chief Don Engler sent out a letter together that laid out all of the safety changes. So far, no one has complained about the changes. “They’ve made all the difference in the world,” said Haught.