• 59°

Schools, families must weigh options

A Cincinnati superintendent who suggested that teachers should be armed to protect themselves and their students in case of a school shooting is without a job today.

Sunday, November 14, 1999

A Cincinnati superintendent who suggested that teachers should be armed to protect themselves and their students in case of a school shooting is without a job today.

The Reading Board of Education bought out the rest of John Viars’s contract and dismissed him after protests by some community members and parents.

Viars said his comments were taken out of context and that he was just exploring several school safety options.

And criticism of his comments was not universal, either. Some district parents agreed with him that schools should take any steps possible to protect students.

While a superintendent must be held accountable for what he says in public and the message he sends to his students, staff and community, the reaction to Viars’s statement seems a bit harsh.

After the horrors of the Columbine High School shootings -and other horrible events that involved a lone gunman attacking defenseless children or adults – many people explored many options for keeping our schools safe.

There were some who wondered if so many teens would have died at Columbine if staff members had had access to a weapon. And there is nothing wrong with talking about that as an option – even if it is discarded or modified significantly later.

There can be nothing scarier as an adult than being in a school full of children who are under your care and protection and to come face to face with some looney who has a gun. Teachers and administrators are not police officers or negotiators. They are victims, too, and their lives are just as precious.

Proposing a solution to the school violence problem is easy when you are not the one who has to deal with the consequences. Teachers and administrators should feel that they can explore any option to keep the children – and themselves – safe. Their decisions should include contributions from the community and school boards, of course, but no staff member should be afraid to express an opinion.

John Viars might have said something his community didn’t like – but he addressed a concern that every teacher in the nation thinks about every day. He should have been allowed to begin a dialogue about those fears – and possible solutions.

And it is time that we started thinking, too, before people decide it is not worth the risk to teach.