Arming Teachers Is Not A New Concept In Oklahoma
OKLAHOMA CITY - Oklahoma hasn’t needed an armed teacher - or anyone else - to intervene in an active shooter situation at a school, but there have been some very close calls.
Most recently, on March 8th, U.S. Grant High School in Oklahoma went on lockdown following reports of a gun scare.
“Out of the blue, on the intercom, they just said, lockdown procedures,” said Drew Rhodes, a government teacher at U.S. Grant High. He explained how he quickly rounded up his class.
The students were huddled in a corner of the classroom when Rhodes grabbed a desk, and a broken leg of a desk. He positioned himself between the door and his students, realizing this is the new devastating reality of his job — teaching while contending with the increasing threat of school shootings.
“ I don't have the luxury to pretend if it's a drill or not,” said Rhodes.
As Rhodes stood ready to confront a potential shooter, a student snapped a photo and posted it to the social site, Snapchat. The picture went viral on social media, and the verbiage associated with that picture suggested teachers deserved raises due to the new challenges of leading a classroom.
Rhodes said he was just doing his job, and fortunately, did not have to defend anyone against a shooter.
Oklahoma City Police made an arrest and confiscated a gun before any harm could be done.
However, it is incidents like that, coupled with requests for stricter gun laws from the survivors of the Parkland, Florida school shooting, putting more focus on the fiercely debated idea to arm teachers.
Some schools in Oklahoma have already been allowing teachers to carry guns since 2015.
The law allows for school districts to adopt and implement gun carrying policies, as each district sees fit.
The Oklahoma Department of Education doesn't track the schools that choose to arm teachers.
In 2016, News 9 surveyed Oklahoma schools by sending emails to more than 500 superintendents of local school districts across the state, asking that they respond and indicate whether they have adopted a handgun policy or not. 327 districts responded to the email.
The overwhelming majority, 290, or 89 percent, wrote that they had not adopted the new gun policy; 16 districts, or 5 percent, indicated they were currently considering adoption of the new policy; 21 districts, or 6 percent, said that they had adopted a policy allowing a teacher to be armed in the classroom.
“Honestly, I didn't know whether it would fly or not, I mean, I really figured there would be mixed emotions,” said Todd Hallman.
Hallman is an agriculture education teacher in Drumright. He was among the first in the state to get trained and certified to carry a gun in the classroom.
At that time, he reported the majority of students felt better having the added layer of protection.
“I'm here to teach the kids, and I’m here to protect them,” explained Hallman.
The idea of gun-toting teachers is not so clear cut for everyone.
The OK Department of Education reports 249 firearm incidents at public schools from 2008 to 2017. Eight of those resulted in physical injuries.
Meanwhile, the FBI recorded 48 active shooter incidents at schools and colleges in the US in nearly a decade. None, in Oklahoma.
“We don't try to encourage the schools one way or the other,” said Director Kim Carter, Oklahoma Homeland Security.
Carter said they recommend school districts implement safety standards before allowing district-specific gun policies to be implemented.
Oklahoma’s Homeland Security Office asks school leaders to consider the answers to several question including:
- What type of equipment would teachers be allowed to carry? What caliber of weapon?
- Will teachers be allowed to carry the gun on their body? Carry on a belt? A holster?
Director Carter believes the law is written broadly, and in some instances, districts have admittedly overlooked policy for how to handle weapons.
He encourages teachers to get training beyond the requirements of current state law.
“ The law does not call for a lot of training, and we highly encourage them to get some advance training — the more training you have, the better you're going to respond in an event,” said Carter.
Still, some lawmakers want to make it easier for teachers to carry a gun.
Rep. Jeff Coody, R- Grandfield recently proposed reducing the requirements for arming teacher from the mandatory CLEET certification to a carry permit.
“ I think in a worst case scenario, protection on the side of the good guys is much preferable to nothing,” said Coody.
He continued to say that the legislation could’ve offered districts more control in arming teachers.
The bill didn’t make it during this legislative session but Coody said he will try again in the future.
Back at U.S. Grant High, Drew Rhodes believes their is a more simple solution.
“If you want to arm teachers, arm us with the funding we need to help these kids.. arm us with mental health resources, arm us with more books, arm us with the ability and professional development to be able to build relationships with these kids, because at the end of the day, the most powerful weapon, ever known, is education,” said Rhodes.
Read Below: 2016 handgun policy survey results