October 21, 2014

Iowa officials react to NRA call for armed cops in every US school

The president of the National Rifle Association today called on congress to ensure every American school has an armed cop on school grounds. Iowa Association of School Boards executive director Tom Downs says many Iowa schools have a school “resource officer” already.

“In the district I just recently left not only did we have an officer in uniform, armed — we had his squad car in front of the building every day that we had kids there,” Downs says. “We wanted people to know: ‘There’s an officer in the building at this time.'”

Downs was superintendent of Southeast Polk schools before he retired and became the leader of the school board association.

“I think there’s strong indication of support of school resource officers,” Downs says. “I think that heightened security; that command presence, if you will; that show-of-force can’t be underestimated in providing a safe environment.”

Jon Thompson, the superintendent of Aplington-Parkersburg schools, was the school’s leader when AP football coach Ed Thomas was shot to death on school grounds by a former student. Three and a half years later, some students are still traumatized.

“We had a young man this year who was having reflections and bad times and that’s the importance of the guidance counselor, the at-risk staff to identify that and to meet with them,” Thompson says. “It’s recurring. We never know when. We still have college students who are calling back (to Aplington-Parkersburg High School) who are still having emotions and reactions to that — and it’s a long term event.”

He says schools need some flexibility to use general state taxpayer support to pay the salaries of a variety of professionals, from cops in the school to people who can counsel students dealing with emotional problems. In the wake of the mass murders at Sandy Hook Elementary in Newtown, Connecticut, some have suggested teachers and administrations should start carrying guns. Aplington-Parkersburg’s superintendent says he’s never even gone hunting.

“I’m totally against that,” Thompson says. “I just think it would lead to more problems than it would solve.”

The executive director of the Iowa Association of School Boards is “hugely opposed” to any effort to arm educators.

“I would see two outcomes of that,” Downs says. “Number one, there would be more school shootings and number two, there would be more dead teachers. Teachers focus on instruction. They’re trained as educators. They’re not trained as law enforcement people. To have more guns in a school, whether they’re in purses or on the waists’ of adults, I don’t believe is in the best interest of securing schools.”

Downs and Thompson made their comments today during taping of Iowa Public Television’s “Iowa Press” program. At the close of the program, the Aplington-Parkersburg superintendent offered this advice to the people of Sandy Hook, Connecticut.

“You do recover. As hard as that is to see at the time, it is going to happen and things will turn bright again — maybe not for those 20 families, but for the larger community for sure and it is a time-consuming process. There’s no hasty about a recovery and that’s being aware of trauma that can develop later,” Thompson said. “Stay the course, stay together and you can actually be stronger afterwards.”

“Iowa Press” airs tonight at 7:30 and again on Sunday at noon on Iowa Public Television.