By CHRISTINE ARMARIO
AP Education Writer
MIAMI (AP) - The nation's largest gun-rights lobby called Friday for the placement of an armed police officer in every school, but parents and educators questioned how safe such a move would keep kids, whether it would be economically feasible and how it would alter student life. Their reactions ranged from supportive to disgusted.
Already, there are an estimated 10,000 sworn officers serving in schools around the country, most of them armed and employed by local police departments, according to a membership association for the officers. Still, they're deployed at only a fraction of the country's approximately 98,000 public schools, and their numbers have declined during the economic downturn. Some departments have increased police presence at schools since last week's shooting rampage at a Connecticut elementary school that left 26 dead, but say they can only do so temporarily because of funding.
The National Rifle Association said at a news conference that it wants Congress to fund armed officers in every American school, breaking its silence on the Connecticut shootings. The idea made sense to some anxious parents and teachers, but provoked outright anger in others.
"Their solution to resolve the issue around guns is to put more guns in the equation?" said Superintendent Hank Grishman of the Jericho, N.Y., schools on Long Island, who has been an educator for 44 years. "If anything it would be less safe for kids. You would be putting them in the midst of potentially more gunfire."
Where school resource officers are already in place, they help foster connections between the schools and police, and often develop a close enough relationship with parents and children that they feel comfortable coming forward with information that could prevent a threat, said Mo Canady, executive director of the National Association of School Resource Officers.
But an Oklahoma educator who teaches at a school with armed officers described the NRA's proposal as a "false solution," though she's not opposed to the presence of more police.
"I teach at a school that has four armed police officers on campus every day, but it's more than a quarter of a mile from the main office to my room, and I'm not even the farthest room away," said Elise Robillard, a French teacher at Westmoore High School. "If (a student) put a loaded gun in their bag and came to my classroom and pulled it out and started shooting, by the time the police officer figured out what was going on and got to my classroom, we'd all be dead. This whole hallway could be dead before a policeman got here."
Around the country, school systems sometimes rotate armed officers through schools or supplement them with unarmed safety agents. New York City's school district is the largest in the country with more than 1 million students. The NYPD has 350 armed officers who rotate throughout the school system, and they're supplemented by unarmed safety personnel who also report to the department. In Philadelphia, school officials have rejected armed patrols in city schools and instead use unarmed school police.
In rural Blount County, Ala., a tobacco tax is used to fund a squad of nine armed sheriff's deputies and a supervisor who are assigned to work inside the system's 16 schools on a full-time basis, superintendent Jim Carr said Friday. They also assist in sports games and other after-school events.
An armed sheriff's deputy assigned to Columbine High School the day of the massacre there in 1999 was unable to stop the violence, though police procedures around the country have changed since then.
According to a Jefferson County Sheriff's Department report released in 2000, the uniformed sheriff's deputy was eating lunch in his patrol car at a park near the school when he rushed to the school in response to a radio report about the violence. The deputy briefly exchanged fire with one of the gunmen, but the gunman ran back inside the building to continue the rampage.
The officer radioed for assistance, and police followed the then-standard procedure of waiting for a SWAT team to arrive before entering the building. Since that tragedy, police procedures have been changed to call for responding officers to rush toward gunfire to stop a gunman first.
In his speech, NRA chief executive officer Wayne LaPierre said Congress should appropriate funds to post an armed police officer in every school. In the meantime, he said the NRA would develop a school emergency response program that would include volunteers from the group's 4.3 million members to help guard children.