Following a mass shooting at a Florida high school two weeks ago, lawmakers and President Donald Trump have reintroduced the idea of arming teachers. In Washington, there are a few school districts that already have armed staff.
Toppenish School District near Yakima was the first to have guns on campus in 2014. Nineteen armed administrators are on school grounds including Superintendent John Cerna.
What training does the armed staff receive?
The training is a minimum of 40 hours of class time as well as range time training. Then we actually had to certify on the range and the certification is basically, you have 50 shots and you have to keep them within the border of a human target.
And does their training address what to do in a situation if there is a shooter at a school campus?
Yes, it shows how we walked through scenarios where we cleared rooms back to back. Like on TV where you see SWAT and that type of thing, we do that in case we ever have to deal with something like that.
You made the decision that all of the armed staff are anonymous. Why did you decide that?
Well for a variety of reasons. One is that they have family and I really don't want to put a target on their back. And the thing is with being anonymous, they don't know who is carrying or where they're carrying. I can tell you right now all of our buildings are covered. So it's better not to know who. If an incident does occur, they have an orange vest that identifies them so when police arrive, they'll know who, but until then it won't happen. We've had face-to-face meetings with our local police so they have a pretty good idea of who is armed in the building.
Some might argue that the decision to keep your staff members anonymous could acknowledge that guns are too dangerous to be in schools. What do you say?
I think it's bogus because guns are dangerous if you neglect the proper use of guns. Yes they are [dangerous], but safety is paramount. That is critical. Everything is about safety when we go on range, every gun is considered loaded all the time and that's the way it should be. So accidents happen, yes. But usually they happen because somebody's negligent. And we haven't had any problems in four years at all. None. It's all been really good because we practice safety at all times.
Teachers are not permitted to carry weapons in the Toppenish School District. How do they feel about that when they know there are other staff members who can?
Most of our teachers are thankful there's an armed presence in case something does go down that there's a possibility that we may save their life and the lives of their students. I've had several teachers ask if they could be part of an armed presence and I've had to tell them no at this time. There are some teachers that probably would do a great job, but at this time I believe we have enough armed personnel to make sure all of our buildings are safe.
As you know President Trump and other national leaders have suggested that maybe one way to go is to arm teachers in classrooms. Do you want teachers in your district to carry guns?
Some of them yes. We have some of our teachers that are very competent. We have several of them in the service that have shown interest to do this. Then if that should happen they would have to go through the same training that we go through and we do it side by side. I don't have a problem with that.
What have you heard from students and from parents since the school shooting a couple of weeks ago in Florida?
A lot of our students, you know, they know that we have our presence and they're very thankful. Our parents, they're thankful, too. I mean I haven't heard anything negative. I think they believe that because of our pro-activeness- instead of being reactionary and waiting 'til an incident occurs and then you take care of it- no. I think being proactive is much better and I've heard nothing but positive from our people.