In moving to arm janitors, Montpelier Exempted Village Schools has taken an unnecessary, and even ill-advised, step following last month’s tragedy at Sandy Hook Elementary School in Newtown, Conn. School officials plan to have four janitors carrying handguns on its K-12 campus, starting in March.
The plan creates more risks than it eliminates in seeking to protect students, faculty, and staff members in that rural Williams County school district. Other districts should not follow suit.
Superintendent Jamie Grime is correct that having the district sit back and cross its fingers is not prudent. But less risky and more effective ways to bolster security include limiting building access, installing additional alarms, and working closer with law enforcement.
Guns and kids don’t mix. The handguns will be assigned to janitors, but their proximity to students increases the risks that students will find ways to get them.
Savvy kids know how to get items from a janitor’s supply closet. What safeguards will keep them from finding the guns?
The issue isn’t janitors. Such risks would increase if weapons were assigned to teachers or other staff members. People forget an armed guard did not stop the Columbine school massacre, nor did an armed police team prevent people from dying at Virginia Tech.
The New York Times has reported that at least 23,000 schools — about one-third of all public schools — already have armed security on staff. But even the National Rifle Association’s ridiculous call for bumping up those numbers focused on trained security officers, not janitors.
The Montpelier district’s plan calls for janitors to receive a two-day training seminar from the Tactical Defense Institute of West Union, Ohio. But that group, which has provided firearms and self-defense training for 15 years, has six levels of firearms training, each two to three days long.
A citizens police academy in the Toledo suburb of Oregon, which has a strong emphasis on firearms training, lasts 10 weeks.
A two-day primer is not sufficient training, especially given how complex any siege or standoff on a school campus likely would become. A better plan would include getting law enforcement and other trained professionals on site sooner.
It’s hard to think of the Montpelier plan as anything but a knee-jerk reaction, though Montpelier Board President Larry Martin said the district had laid the groundwork for it several months before the Sandy Hook shootings, in which 20 children and six staff were slain on Dec. 14.
Everyone wants safer schools. But school districts, especially, should avoid hasty, ill-conceived actions that are unnecessary and even dangerous.