Our View

There's been more talk in Jefferson City this past week about arming teachers and school staff.

We've always thought that should be a district's last resort.

Everyone is on board with protecting children in schools, and if training and arming teachers was the only way — or the best way — to prevent school shootings, we'd go there too.

But beginning in 2018, Missouri law allowed districts to choose to arm staff who meet specific training requirements. The program is voluntary and up to each school board, yet very few implemented it. Clearly, they don't see it as the best solution either.

We think the better, safer option for everyone is putting into schools trained police officers. Yes, it will be expensive. For a district like Joplin, it would mean employing 15 or so officers — one per school. This is not a burden that should fall solely on the district, but as it is a societal problem, costs should be shared by the city, state and even the federal government.

For us, it comes down to a question of the most effective response to an active shooter situation: a highly trained officer, or an armed teacher or staff member. If we had confidence the latter would be effective, that would be one thing, but it is probably unlikely to work and is certainly unproven.

Protecting children in our schools requires a societal challenge, and it also must incorporate solutions beyond putting more guns in classrooms.

Self-defense starts with prevention and should certainly include funding for mental health initiatives. The 2019 Missouri Governor's School Safety Task Force noted that: "Schools report mental health-related problems increasing annually, without a corresponding increase in available mental health resources. Many communities and schools lack high-quality treatment for children and adolescents.

"There is an urgent need for effective prevention interventions and the ability to identify youth at risk for mental illness in schools to connect them with needed treatment and services."

We've written before and will continue to emphasize that our unwillingness to prioritize mental health funding and treatment in the country is a societal failure that is at the heart of many of our problems.

The simple fact is that there is no perfect, one-size-fits-all solution to school shootings. We must address a number of complex problems, and if all we're talking about is arming teachers without addressing these deeper issues, we'll prevent little.

One last thought: How districts proceed, especially on a matter as sensitive as introducing guns to classrooms — whether controlled by trained officers or put in the hands of teachers and staff — must be a choice made locally.

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