Talon News - Good Local News

By Jacque Ritchie


Kirk Carpenter on Arming Teachers


TALON sits down with Aztec School District Superintendent Kirk Carpenter for a discussion about arming teachers on campus. Carpenter stated, "The best way to stop school violence or violence at churches, concerts or shopping malls is prevention, that's the best form of defense. Safety for our students and faculty is our number one concern it always was and it always will be."

Carpenter declared, "I obviously respect the view points of my colleagues. But in my position as superintendent I also have the responsibility to listen to teachers, parents, and you also have to listen to students on this." Carpenter said, "The main take-away message I'm getting is; the majority of people coming to me, are not in support of teachers carrying weapons."

Carpenter said the serious question of teachers with weapons should not be decided based on knee-jerk reactivity or a media-driven surge in public popularity, "I know the other side is getting people to say, 'hey, we need to do this' but I'm not getting that message, I'm getting concern from fellow teachers saying, 'We don't need this, I'm not gonna feel comfortable having people in this building carrying weapons that are not law-enforcement.'" Carpenter said he is getting feedback from families saying they are adamantly against arming school staff, "They simply don't want teachers walking around a classroom with a gun on them. I've even had families go as far as to say, 'If you guys allow this I'm taking my kids out of your schools."

Carpenter says he understands the very real concerns parents have about their children's safety, "I get the very visceral response where people are saying, 'I want to protect our students' of course we all want that." Carpenter explained, "People want to believe that having a teacher with a gun is a simple solution, but when you open it up and really look at it, it's not a black and white issue there's a whole broad spectrum of considerations here. It's anything but simple." Carpenter said, "There's a lot of things that could happen, we could 'what-if' this thing to death." Carpenter conceded, "As many people that you talk to about this issue you are going to have that many different views."

According to Carpenter New Mexico state law currently prohibits guns on school grounds, except for law enforcement so the decision of allowing teachers to bear arms is not legally his call. "We are talking about an issue that can't happen on a district level." The legal aspect not withstanding, Carpenter argued that liablilty issues would make insurance costs prohibitive. "Our insurance carrier just would not allow it," he said.

To Carpenter the energy being spent on debating the viability of arming teachers would be better spent on developing and implementing proactive prevention and other precautionary measures. "Of course, that is not as exciting as talking about arming teachers, that's something that people tend to get on board with. When it comes right down to it prevention is where it's at." Carpenter contends that the district has been actively going forward with preventative measures for years long before the tragic events of last December, "We've been looking at how to fortify our entrances at all the schools...we are interested in putting more armed and unarmed security personnel on all of our campuses." Aztec school district consists of seven campuses, "We need to look at educational funding in New Mexico, we aren't sufficiently funded and when I say that, that doesn't mean that we just need more teachers and educational assistants and raises we need all that for sure, but we also need more funding for security so every campus is secure." Carpenter is taking his message to the roundhouse, "I am going to Santa Fe this month to testify and participate on a panel before the Legislative Finance Committee to address school safety and one of my messages will be to talk about future educational funding...that will include added security costs. It's imperative."

Carpenter believes that the active shooter drills that schools have adopted have proven very effective saying, "Lives were saved that day because of that. All the preparation up to the time of the event was invaluable...We trained together with local law-enforcement and that's why our high school was prepared...We need to continue with that. We work very closely with the SJC Community Emergency Office. We are also building a Threat Assessment Team...that team is comprised of many individuals, counselors, social workers, behavioral and mental health specialists to help us identify at-risk students at a very early age, and to make sure we don't lose track of those students that may need help. It's important that when we have them on our radar, that we don't lose them so first of all we can serve them and hopefully successfully treat them." Carpenter said, "In all cases where we've seen school shootings across this country where the students were the perpetrators, they were probably identified at a very early age but they may not received the services that they needed or they fell off the radar and didn't get help and ultimately came back and did some very devastating things...those are the problems we need to focus on." Carpenter said,"We want to continue our work with S.J.C.S.O. and work together with the FBI and the DA's office, we are all on the same team working toward the goal of prevention which is beyond reaction."

Carpenter stressed that open lines of communication between law enforcement, community agencies and school districts is critical when it comes to assessing and addressing a possible threat before a tragedy occurs.

Carpenter does not want to downplay the argument on either side of the issue holding that both sides have value, "What we have in common on both sides is that we both care about students and we care about staff and we care about safety." Most importantly Carpenter contends, "Going forward our job is to create a safe but also a positive learning environment. Most importantly, the event that happened on December 7, is not going to define us and it's not going to defeat us."


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