Many Massachusetts officials are wary of a declaration by the National Rifle Association that armed guards should be stationed at all schools following the massacre at Sandy Hook Elementary School.
“I’m not so sure that armed guards at this point would be considered to be appropriate,” said Paul Andrews, director of professional development and government services at the Massachusetts Association of School Superintendents. “We’re trying to maintain a learning atmosphere in a school and not make it into an armed facility.”
Since the shootings in Newtown, Conn., schools around the country have grappled with what steps to take to ensure the safety of their students.
At a press conference in Washington, NRA executive vice president Wayne LaPierre advocated Friday that those steps should include placing armed guards at every school in the country. “Do it now to make sure that blanket safety is in place when our kids return to school in January,” he said.
But that declaration was met with disapproval by officials in Boston, including Mayor Thomas M. Menino.
“There is an outpouring of voices demanding real change to make our communities safer; clearly, the NRA’s leadership is not one of them,” Menino said in a statement. “What they announced today is not a plan, but a ploy to bring more guns into our neighborhoods.”
Boston Police Commissioner Edward F. Davis said taking the step advocated by the NRA would be a “a foolhardy move.”
“It’s not feasible, and I think it’s totally ridiculous,” Davis said. “They have this vision of America as a Wild West town where everyone carries a sidearm. They’re not talking sense.”
Currently, the Boston School Department employs a team of 75 unarmed police officers to manage security at schools. The Boston Police Department supplements that force with an armed school police unit — composed of 13 officers, three detectives, and one supervisor — that provides additional assistance when problems arise.
After the Newtown shootings, Davis said, he and Menino discussed the possibility of placing an armed officer at each school but ultimately deemed the option unacceptable.
“The superintendent and mayor don’t believe more guns are the answer,” said Matthew Wilder, a School Department spokesman. “We believe our schools are safe places.”
Others, however, disagree. After the Sandy Hook shooting, Mayor William A. Flanagan of Fall River decided to station armed police officers at each of the city’s 16 schools, an effort that he said costs $2,500 per day, or about $165 per school.
It is a price Flanagan said he is willing to pay if it deters potential copycats and gives comfort to parents who told him they are fearful for their children after the Connecticut tragedy. Before the police were assigned to each school, he said, some parents had decided to keep their children at home.
“Seeing that police officer has given some peace of mind and comfort,” Flanagan said. “It has the effect of reducing fear and discomfort that our parents may have, and it also acts as a deterrent.”
Flanagan said the police officers will be stationed at each school while officials review school safety procedures and emergency protocol. Down the line, Flanagan said, he will consult with the school superintendent and the police chief to assess whether the police detail continues to be necessary.
Flanagan declined to comment on the NRA’s announcement Friday, although he acknowledged that the steps taken in Fall River were similar to those recommended by the firearm advocacy organization.
Still, some other superintendents said they were uncomfortable at the thought of armed guards in their schools.
David A. Fleishman, superintendent in Newton, said he has had extensive conversations with school, police, and city leaders the past week over possible tactics, but that no one he has spoken with advocated armed guards.
“I’m wondering what kind of message it sends to kids to walk into a school and see an armed guard,” Fleishman said.
Andrews said that schools should focus on measures other than armed personnel to increase security.
Many superintendents, he said, are now considering bulletproof glass, especially on first-floor doors and windows. Some are also planning to install security cameras and panic buttons, as well as a more enhanced system of doors that automatically lock to bar strangers from entering. (In the case of Sandy Hook Elementary School, the doors did automatically lock. The shooter, Adam Lanza, is suspected of forcing his way into the building.)
“From the school side, the solutions get to be extremely complicated,” Andrews said. “There’s no easy, quick-fix answer to this.”