Officials say no to federal gun funding


Local elected and school officials and parents joined the swelling chorus last week of those opposed to a proposal to use federal funds to arm classroom teachers, including in Franklin Square, Elmont and Valley Stream.

The proposal was first mentioned by President Trump in March, after the mass shooting at Marjory Stoneman High School in Parkland, Fla. The idea gained traction late last month, as U.S. Secretary of Education Betsy DeVos suggesting ways in which federal funds could be used. DeVos was responding to inquiries from Oklahoma and Texas state education officials, who were asking for clarification. She said that districts could use funding from parts of Title IV, including Student Support and Academic Enrichment grants, to buy the guns and train teachers to use them.

Laws are on the books in 15 states permitting classroom teachers to carry concealed weapons, including in Oklahoma and Texas, as well as Florida, Ohio, Oregon and Washington. Twenty-one states, including New York, give local school boards the authority to decide whether or not to arm teachers. Pennsylvania joined the list late last month, and legislation is pending in seven more states.

“Seemingly, it appears the Department of Education is now seeking to work with the gun lobby,” State Assemblywoman Mich-aelle Solages, a Democrat from Valley Stream, said on Aug. 24. “A secretary of education that would allow school districts to apply for funding to arm teachers with firearms is wholly out of touch with the significant needs of educators and students. I implore the U.S. Department of Education to fund actual educational programs, because parents want a teacher in the classroom and not a part-time cop.”

“Arming teachers jeopardizes students and shifts our focus away from effective security measures,” State Sen. Todd Kaminsky, a Democrat from Long Beach, wrote to State Commissioner of Education MaryEllen Elia in a letter dated Aug. 23. “Where could a gun be ‘safely’ stored in a classroom?” He further argued that putting teachers in active-shooter scenarios would place them in “accidental and potentially dangerous” confrontations with first responders.

“We owe it to our children and teachers to keep our schools safe and supply them with adequate resources to ensure they receive the best education possible,” Kaminsky wrote. “DeVos’s asinine proposal to use our tax dollars to arm teachers accomplishes none of these objectives. Instead of using federal funds to force our schools to double as security guards, the federal government should provide more funding to our schools to supply educational materials, bolster infrastructure and technology and support programs that prepare our children to be tomorrow’s leaders.”

Dr. Ralph Ferrie, the Sewanhaka Central High School District superintendent, shared the sentiment, saying, “I believe that schools should be educational environments. I believe that schools should also be safe, but I won’t support anything that brings guns to schools or arms teachers.”

Valley Stream District 24 Superintendent Dr. Don Sturz was more circumspect. “The Board of Education hasn’t had a conversation about this yet, so I can’t comment officially,” he said. “But speaking as an education professional, a lot of mandated programs need support. This money could be put to much better use paying for things we need now.”

Schools that apply for Title IV funding are required to use a percentage of the money received to improve school security. How this is accomplished is left to individual districts. It is this ambiguity in the act that some school officials have exploited to use funds for firearms purchases and training.

“You have to understand that the person who put forth this stupid idea is also leading the charge to take federal money out of education,” United Federation of Teachers President Michael Mulgrew said in a panel discussion last month. “We can laugh about this and talk about the absurdity of it, but at the same time, it’s a distraction from the greater plan” to reduce federal investment in education, he charged.

Parents and local residents were not quite as unanimous in their opposition. “Personally . . . I don’t think teachers should be armed,” Caitlin McCormick-Close, a retired police officer, wrote in response to a Herald Facebook post. “I’m all for armed security at schools; it’s just not something the teachers should have to deal with. There are plenty of retired police officers, military veterans that would do a great job as armed security.”

“I think they should use the money to add the proper security in schools,” Jennifer Negrino wrote. “Teachers have enough responsibility teaching our children.”

But teacher Karen McHugh wrote that while she agreed teachers should not have to be armed, “as a teacher if I’m faced with an armed threat, I’d rather have a weapon than be unarmed. In a perfect world, an armed security guard or police officer would be assigned to each school, but until then, training and permission to be armed is better than a sitting duck.”

Theresa Zucarello, McHugh’s colleague, disagreed. Teachers “are often like chickens with our heads cut off keeping up with our work loads,” she wrote. “We are the last people who should be keeping track of a firearm in a room filled with children.”

Maria Manganiello said she thought teachers should have the ability to defend their students “against harm or even death . . . as long as there is a background check, and as long as they are properly trained.”

But Dawn LoCascio-Riggio responded with a blunt negative. “No,” she wrote in response to the question of using federal funds to buy guns. “Teachers need teaching supplies. Police officers need guns.”