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Most U.S. Teachers Say Physical Security Measures Have Positive Impact, But Oppose Carrying Firearms at School

Most U.S. teachers said the physical security measures at their school provide a positive impact on school climate, but they are opposed to educators carrying firearms on campus, according to a new national survey.

The finding is from a research study conducted by the Rand Corporation, Teachers’ Views on School Safety, which surveyed 973 kindergarten through twelfth grade (K-12) teachers in the United States about their views on safety in their schools.

More than 330,000 U.S. students have been exposed to gun violence in a school setting during the past 20 years. In 2022 alone, there were approximately 300 shooting incidents at K-12 schools in the United States. The regularity of these incidents means that the threat of gun violence and the perception of school safety shapes the educational experience for teachers and students, the researchers explained.

“As efforts to increase physical security in schools continue to expand, there is a need for research to understand what measures and approaches affect school safety outcomes,” according to the study. “However, there is also a need to understand how these various measures and approaches affect key stakeholders’ perceptions of safety because students and staff feeling safe is also critical for a healthy and effective educational environment.”

Teachers on Arming Teachers

Between 25 October and 14 November 2022, the researchers fielded a survey for K-12 U.S. teachers. Respondents were asked to provide information on their characteristics, including gender, race/ethnicity, and school characteristics, such as location, student racial/ethnic composition, poverty level, and enrollment size.

“Regardless of gender or race, roughly half of teachers felt that physical security measures at their school (which most commonly include locks, ID badges, cameras, and security staff) positively affected the school climate,” according to the study. “Only 5 percent of teachers felt that their schools’ physical security measures had a negative effect on school climate.”

When teachers were asked how they felt about arming teachers with guns as an additional security measure, however, teachers were divided.

“Fifty-four percent of the nationally representative sample of teachers reported believing that teachers carrying firearms will make schools less safe, 20 percent reported believing that it will make schools safer, and the final 26 percent reported feeling that it would make schools neither more nor less safe,” the study explained.

The researchers also found that Black teachers were less likely than white teachers to think that carrying a firearm would make schools safer. Of all self-identified groups, male teachers working in rural areas were most likely to report that they would carry a firearm at school if they were allowed to.

“Similarly, teachers in schools serving mostly white students were more likely to feel that more firearms in schools would make schools safer than teachers in schools serving mostly students of color (24 versus 16 percent, respectively),” according to the study. “Teachers in small schools (26 percent) and rural schools (30 percent)—both of which tend to serve higher proportions of white students—also preferred teacher-carry policies at higher rates than their counterparts.”

Based on analysis by the RAND researchers of respondents answers, roughly 550,000 of the 3 million total U.S. teachers would be interested in personally carrying a firearm at school.

The findings help shed light on a trend in U.S. state legislatures to consider allowing teachers to be armed in the classroom. In the past several months, Mississippi, Tennessee, Texas, and Wisconsin have all considered legislation on teachers carrying firearms at school.

Texas, for instance, already allows teachers, per the district’s discretion, to carry firearms but has considered implementing a program for teachers to earn a stipend of $25,000 per year to be trained to carry a weapon on campus.

As of 2021, the researchers said, 28 U.S. states allowed teachers and other staff members (not including school safety guards) to carry firearms. As of 2022, 52 percent of school principals reported they had a sworn law enforcement officer on campus at least once per week; 92 percent of those officers carried a firearm.

Teachers on Other School Safety Measures

Along with asking teachers about their feelings on carrying firearms at school, the researchers also explored how teachers view other school safety and security measures.

Threat reporting. In the Rand survey, 84 percent of teachers said their school had a threat assessment team for students. Teachers were also mostly confident that threats would get reported if students or staff heard about them (74 percent), but most of those same teachers acknowledged at least one barrier that might prevent threats from being reported (84 percent).

“The most common barrier—which 52 percent of teachers selected—was students’ fear about the negative consequences of reporting threats,” according to the study. “This comports with recent research that shows that student concerns about being labeled a ‘snitch’ or about getting a friend in trouble are often a main reason they do not come forward to report a threat.”

Three-quarters of the teachers surveyed said that students were more likely to report threats to them or other school staff members instead of a school security staff member.

“Notably, Black teachers were less likely than white teachers to say that their school communities would report threats directly to school security staff (47 percent versus 60 percent,” the researchers found. “We hypothesize that this racial disparity in teachers’ perceptions of their school communities’ willingness to report threats directly to school security staff (including sworn law enforcement officers) is attributable to the persistent pattern of the presence of sworn law enforcement officers in schools having disproportionate negative impacts on Black students, who face higher rates of out-of-school suspensions, expulsions, and in-school arrests relative to white students.”

Security measures. Most teachers reported that school safety and security measures have a positive effect on their school culture. Three physical safety investments in particular were part of this effect: alarms directly connected to the police, a security staff person, and identification badges.

While the researchers asked about other physical security measures—security cameras, metal detectors, and locks—they were not able to identify statistically significant findings.

“Our findings are generally consistent with prior research that links positive perceptions of feeling safe to what we call visually light-touch security measures and negative perceptions to visually heavy-touch or high-security measures,” according to the study. “For example, while the heavy use of security cameras inside school buildings is commonly found to decrease student perceptions of safety, smaller numbers of cameras and cameras placed in outdoor areas are linked to higher perceptions of safety.”

Teachers’ Top Safety Concern

While gun violence is a major risk, only 6 percent of teachers surveyed said an active shooter was their largest concern for school safety.

Instead, nearly half of teachers (49 percent) said their top safety concern was bullying and cyberbullying. High school teachers also expressed concern about drugs (25 percent ranked it as their biggest concern) and student fights (17 percent). Middle school teachers, however, were more likely to list self-harm as a top concern. Elementary school teachers expressed more concerns about violence against teachers.

“Despite the prevalence of anti-bullying programs, everyday school violence is a concern for teachers,” wrote Heather L. Schwartz, one of the researchers, in a press release. “Bullying, not active shooters, was teachers’ most common top safety concern, followed by fights and drugs.”