The latest school safety proposals ignore the experiences of students of color

By P.R. Lockhart

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Why calls to arm teachers have been met with fear in black and brown communities.

The recent school shooting at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School has renewed the debate about high national rates of gun violence and what to do about it. But as the debate has settled along the typical partisan divisions, one idea has emerged: Arming teachers could make schools safer.

“If you had a teacher who was adept with the firearm, they could end the attack very quickly,” President Trump said during a February 21 listening session with students and parents affected by school shootings. He also proposed paying armed teachers “a little bit of a bonus.”

Shifting the conversation away from gun control to focus on arming teachers and staff is arguably a distraction from confronting the causes of school shootings and gun violence. “In any other country in the world, the idea of arming teachers with guns in classrooms to protect children would be seen as the policy equivalent to random screaming,” Vox’s German Lopez wrote recently. “Yet in the United States, it’s an idea that now has support.”

Armed Educators (and trusted people who work within a school) love our students and will protect them. Very smart people. Must be firearms adept & have annual training. Should get yearly bonus. Shootings will not happen again – a big & very inexpensive deterrent. Up to States.

— Donald J. Trump (@realDonaldTrump) February 24, 2018

Still, allowing teachers and other school employees to carry guns in schools isn’t entirely new — several school districts in Texas, for example, already allow teachers with concealed carry permits to bring guns into schools, and similar policies have been considered or implemented in school districts in Ohio, Indiana, and California in recent years.

But legislation is currently under consideration in states like Florida, Tennessee, and in a school district in Kentucky, raising a discussion about how arming teachers could actually play out in America’s classrooms, especially for teachers and students of color.

“It’s another layer to the conversation about how racialized the debate around gun violence can be,” the Washington Post’s Eugene Scott noted last week. “The current conversation about school safety appears to have more black Americans drawing attention to the consequences arming teachers could have in schools where implicit biases exist.”

There’s a broader issue magnified by the intensity of reactions to the Parkland shooting: When it comes to gun violence, race and the unique needs of communities of color are still being overlooked in the national conversation.

For teachers of color, arming themselves could come with risk

The concerns that come with arming teachers are twofold. First, how would such a measure affect black students, a group that is already much more likely to face disproportionately harsh discipline in schools? And second, how would it affect teachers of color, especially black teachers, given the rates of black men and women wounded or killed in officer-involved shootings?

There’s isn’t any data out there that gives a clear picture of how people of color would be affected by arming teachers. But given broader trends, it is possible to make some reasonable guesses.

For example, research from the University of North Carolina, Chapel Hill, has shown that when participants were asked are asked to offer split-second reactions to images of weapons or tools after being shown a black or white face, people identify a weapon faster when shown a black face first.

A 2005 University of Colorado study, replicating an experiment that has been conducted by other researchers, found that forcing subjects to react in a split-second to a potentially armed person meant participants would move to shoot armed black individuals faster and more often than armed whites and take more time to determine to not shoot an unarmed black person than an unarmed white person.

These examples, and others, suggest that race influences how people identify the presence of a weapon, even if said weapon isn’t actually there. In a scenario involving an armed teacher of color, these factors would likely be at play: A teacher could, in a split second, look like a shooter, instead of a protector of the students in their care.

When discussing how arming teachers could affect educators of color, many have noted the case of Philando Castile, a Minnesota school cafeteria worker and licensed gun owner who was shot and killed by a police officer during a police stop in July 2016. The officer said that he shot Castile, who had already informed the officer that he was carrying a legal weapon, because he believed Castile was reaching for his gun.

Teachers of color have expressed concern that instances like this, or ones where they would be mistaken for an active shooter, would only become more likely if they carried a weapon inside schools.

Students of color already deal with racial bias in schools. Armed teachers could make things worse.

There’s much more data to draw from on how this proposal could affect students. And that data, which shows that black students are much more likely to be disciplined and experience racial bias in schools, suggests that arming teachers could make an already difficult environment much more dangerous for students of color.

In a 2014 fact sheet detailing disparities in discipline during the 2011-2012 school year, the Department of Education’s Office for Civil Rights noted that black students are suspended and expelled from school at a rate more than three times greater than white students are. When broken down by race and gender, the OCR notes that black girls are suspended at six times the rate of white girls and at twice the rate of white boys.

Overall, black students were only about 16 percent of the student population, but made up more than a third of students suspended or expelled, according to the civil rights office. White students accounted for a similar rate of student suspension and expulsions, but they …read more

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