Commentary: Safety in Winston-Salem/Forsyth County Schools

Illustration by Gaby Fantone

Commentary: Safety in Winston-Salem/Forsyth County Schools
May 30
08:53 2019

By Miranda Jones and Kimya Dennis

In the past month, firearms were brought to several schools in the Winston-Salem/Forsyth County school system.

Many parents dropped their children off and these same children walked into what is supposed to be a safe space. We are left asking ourselves: How did this happen? We are left looking for answers and accountability. We are asking ourselves if our local school knows how to handle the threat of gun violence and if it knows how to keep children and staff safe. We ask ourselves if there is an answer to this problem.

NC Senate Bill 192, which would allow teachers to carry firearms in the classroom, is not the answer. We’ve just seen what happens when teachers are left to make decisions about firearms. Sarah Michelle Wilson allegedly had a student hand her a firearm. What did she do? Call the police? Call the principal? Call parents? No, she gave the firearm back to the student. Her lack of urgency and poor decision making could have cost children and staff their lives. At Paisley and at the other schools, that decision could have most certainly cost the lives of black and brown children who are most of the schools’ populations.

It is these same black and brown children who have the potential to be disproportionately adversely affected by teachers being allowed to have firearms in schools. Imagine what could happen if a teacher is confronted with a student, especially many of the black and brown children who are larger in stature and intimidating to some. Will they be gunned down? At first glance, you may say “no,” but there is an overwhelming amount of data that shows how these children are often on the receiving end of discipline and punishment. Will they be placed in front of a firearm because the local school system fails to act or permits its teachers to be armed in the classroom?

Right now, we cannot say we trust the district to do the right thing, especially since it appears that educators are getting off lightly in the face of the sheer terror of gun violence. If the actions of the past month don’t scream, “we don’t need Teacher Resource Officers,” then what will? Let’s imagine these same teachers being given an additional supplement for agreeing to take on this role. They would be given a supplement, even though teachers already can’t get a raise, some students don’t have textbooks, and teachers are routinely told there is no money for education resources.

Certainly, this can’t be the direction in which Winston-Salem/Forsyth County Schools wants to move. If nothing else convinces you that teachers with firearms and NC Senate Bill 192 is wrong, the Elon University Poll conducted in partnership with the Raleigh News & Observer and the Charlotte Observer (February 28-March 5, 2018) reported that 78% of teachers think this is a bad idea. Also the poll found that “a majority of N.C. public school teachers said allowing teachers to carry guns on campus and in the classroom would be harmful to the learning environment, would make them feel less safe, and would ultimately lead to an increase in gun-related deaths in American public schools. Most expressed concern that a gun carried by a teacher would fall into the wrong hands.” (Elon University, 2018)

For once, please listen to educators.

Also listen to criminologists and those who work in law enforcement who oppose this bill. Listen and follow their proposed solutions. They, alongside teachers, offer the following alternatives:

*Equipping School Resource Officers to deal with intruders and equitably with students

*Training teachers on how to use research-based de-escalation tactics

*Increased support for mental health funding for all residents

*Enhanced training for emergency situations  

*Mandating that at least two armed officers be present at schools

*Adding high-security measures in schools

Are these not feasible? Somehow there is funding for those high salaried at the top and funding for programs that we try which may or may not work. It’s a gamble. Our children’s lives are not a gamble. This is life or death.

Signed in Support,

Miranda Jones, M.Ed., Educator

Kimya N. Dennis, Ph.D., Criminologist

Ricky Johnson, M.A., Educator

Jack S. Monell, Ph.D., Criminologist

Lance Jones, President, Gate City Chapter, North State Law Enforcement Officers Association

Miranda Jones is a native of Winston-Salem. She is an educator and black activist with a heart for servant leadership.

Kimya N. Dennis is a native of Richmond, VA. She is an educator, community advocate, researcher, and consultant specializing in mental health, criminal justice system, and reproductive health.

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