By Jamie Gumbrecht, CNN
(CNN) – In a matter of hours in December, conversations around education stopped being about standardized testing, food allergies and teacher pay. After the shooting at Sandy Hook Elementary School in Newtown, Connecticut, everybody wanted to know: What's keeping the kids in my life safe at school?
Should school staffers carry guns? Or should every school have an armed police officer? Do guns have any place on school grounds?
How does mental health fit into school safety?
And is it possible that schools and parents are overreacting – and could that hurt kids?
This week, CNN's Schools of Thought published several perspectives on school security, giving those who work or have kids in school a chance to explain what's happening in school hallways and offices around the country.
Schools of Thought readers had their own experiences and opinions to share, too. Readers posted more than 1,000 comments debating what reasonable school security policies and resources should look like – whether they be guns, police, psychologists or a hard look from knowledgeable community members.
David Thweatt, superintendent of schools in Harrold, Texas, described how his small, rural district implemented a plan to allow some staff members to carry concealed weapons in addition to other security members.
Several readers said they liked that Thweatt's "Guardian Plan" took time to vet and train staff members who wanted to carry guns.
icequeen75: "I think what this administrator (does) makes sense. It is a well thought plan that has the good guys with guns but also extensive training. I also think while we are putting guns in the hands of the good guys, we also need to think of ways to keep guns out of the hands of bad guys.
Encouraged: "Agree 100% with this article. As a kid growing up in suburban Jersey, I definitely knew my school was safer because of the presence of armed security officers. All the more better if there were more trained, but covert, armed personnel. … The poor little ones lost at Newtown deserve their memory honored by providing the means for every student in this country to know he or she is safe and protected when entering a school."
aviva1964: "I really don't know what the big deal is. Many schools already have armed guards. ... Kids see security guards at banks, at stadiums, at airports – security at school does not equate to your kids going to school in a prison, nor will it make your kid afraid to go to school. It might make them less afraid."
But many argued that guns have no place in schools, especially in the hands of those hired and trained to educate kids.
Scott B: "I love my kids enough to not want them to go to school prisons."
TomGI: "As long as the decision to arm the school staff is fully disclosed then fine with me. I want to be informed so I can pull my kids out of there. I don't want my kids going to a school with armed staff. There are alternatives to that, and I want to avail myself of them."
And the educators themselves? They came in for and against Harrold's "Guardian Plan."
Jennifer: "I am a teacher and I find it rather insulting when people scoff at the idea of a teacher being trained to use a firearm. ... We already deal with crowd control, conflict resolution, and maintaining order amidst chaos. We are trained to observe an entire scene and assess what needs to happen. We already participate in drills that make us evaluate a situation and respond accordingly. These are all 'tactical' skills, and this is what we use on a daily basis just to maintain a peaceful learning environment in our classrooms. So, as outrageous as it sounds to some, yes, teachers are very capable human beings. Even more so, teachers are very capable human beings who already feel a sense of responsibility to protect children.
Pat Keiser: "As an educator myself I cannot support this idea even with personal feelings toward guns and an increasing gun-culture aside. Granted, this idea seems to have success in Thweatt's school district, it must be taken into account that this is a small school district administering a rural population. Unfortunately, his model cannot be extrapolated out to a larger more urban district. I teach in the city he mentioned being 150 miles southeast of Harrold, a city with 14 high schools in which the one I work at alone possesses more than 2,500 students and 100 teachers. The logistics to begin a program like this in a school district that big would be immense. …
"Good for Harrold ISD; it sounds like you have found a system that works in a community that supports this type of enforcement, but not everywhere does support guns like this nor will they support them going into schools as your community has."
Susan Ingram: "As an educator and ex-Army medic ... I will never carry a weapon into one of my classrooms. I will do my best to protect those in my charge, but my job should not require me to be armed. Enforce the laws in place first. We have enough problems in education without putting the burden of 'marksman' on our CVs.
"I have an idea. ... Instead of spending $600 on a 9mm Glock for my classroom ... could I have some notebooks, pencils and a few extra textbooks??
Lenore Skenazy, a mother and writer from New York, skewered knee-jerk reactions she says create paranoia and fear without making kids safer. Plenty of readers were glad to see their feelings represented on the blog.
common sense: "Thank you for printing at least one article with some common sense to it. People always go to some knee-jerk reaction to what is a terrible and tragic event. Politicians then jump on these things like dogs fighting for a bone, just to claim they did something regardless of how ignorant and shortsighted it is."
CJfromTexas: "Our sixth-grader was suspended three days for making an 'inappropriate' comment about a 3-inch toy gun another kid brought to school (the other boy was also suspended). The comment was "I'm glad thing that isn't real because it could kill people." Rather hyper-reactionary we thought, but it was pointless to fight. Does this only seem ridiculous to us because it was our kid? I fail to see how this type of policy makes anyone safe."
Roger: "My son's school requires everyone to sign in. I guess they'll catch the guy with the assault rifle when he follows the rules – because of course he would! And to think, some want to arm the very people making these stupid rules!"
But some readers didn't think the rules Skenazy criticized were so "silly."
Stew Shearer: "Her criticism of the day care trying to prevent 'piggybacking' is a bit silly. … My daughter's day care had an incident around the same time as the Newton shootings where an individual piggybacked, passed the door code and then attempted to make contact with their child, violating a restraining order. And while it might seem inconsiderate and awkward to refuse admission to someone you don't recognize, it's a better option than being nice and letting a complete stranger into a small building filled with our children ages 6 weeks to 6 years.
Lou: "I can see see her point but, sheesh, Lenore, why don't you try running a freaking school and keeping all those kids safe? It's so easy to sit back and ridicule school administrators' efforts, but I personally would not want to be the one in charge of a school."
Joan: "I understand why there may be a bit of paranoia ... and what is really wrong with that? We are talking about children that were gunned down just by being in school. … I for one am glad that diaglogue has opened up about ways to try and prevent these things from happening. If it takes a few 'silly, stupid' ideas to begin the conversations needed, than so be it. "
Educators agreed that seemingly small rules can take a toll on their teaching time – and how does that help schools?
Frumpy Grammarian: "As a parent and a teacher, I'm also taken aback at the ridiculous knee-jerk reactions that certain schools put into place in the name of security theater. I'd rather be safe, than just feel safe by having ridiculous rules applied to me by well-intentioned but misdirected efforts of school administrators posing as amateur security consultants. My students and I are not safer simply because names and drivers' licenses are taken at the school doorstep.
"Do I have a solution to the problem? No, and I don't claim to have one, either. But I'm smart enough to realize that a lot of what's being done in the name of a solution isn't actually such, either – it's theater."
Art: "I have two friends who are teachers in elementary schools and they complain now that they do not have time to go to the bathroom, let alone attempt to enforce all the different nonteaching regulations imposed on them before this event. They dread the new 'ideas' (that) will be imposed on them and are thinking about dropping out of the profession because they are getting away from teaching and giving to the children; now they are parenting, parking lot monitoring, security, and even having to doctor children who have medical and mental issues at the expense of the rest of the children."
Cathy Paine, a school psychologist in Oregon, identified ways for schools to create a positive learning environment with mental health services and focus on students’ day-to-day safety and well-being. Few argued with Paine, but they said they worried whether it was feasible for cash-strapped schools.
Kronsbeast: "The trade-off here is that having a mental health professional on duty in every school would cost a great deal of money."
JWalk: "Our county just agreed to put an armed police officer in every school, at a great cost to the taxpayers. I guess it's a trade-off of how we want our money spent."
When user WhatDoes asked whether Paine's suggestions were a guarantee for safety, Paine responded.
MsPaine: "I do not believe there are any guarantees here. We can't predict with reliability who is likely to commit an act of school violence before they do it, nor can we prevent every heavily armed person from causing injuries/deaths. We can, however, take many proactive steps. The question of how much physical security to provide in our schools is one that should be left up to each school and community. There is no 'one-size-fit-all' answer. Some schools will choose armed guards and metal detectors. Others will not. However, every school can provide reasonable physical security, such as locked doors, lighted and monitored hallways and visitor check-in, check-out systems. A primary goal should be to reinforce learning as well as safety. Key to this is ensuring that all who are involved are integral members of the school community, including school resource officers and other security personnel. These efforts must be combined with violence prevention, mental health services and positive behavior supports for all students."
Kevin Quinn, a school resource officer in Arizona, encouraged schools to add armed, uniformed, full-time police to schools’ administration teams. He pointed out that many hadn't heard of school resource officers till after the shooting in Newtown, but they were part of President Barack Obama's gun control and safety plan announced this week.
Veronica: "I'm glad to hear that there is such a thing. That certainly is much, much better than the idea of arming teachers/school staff who may not be psychologically equipped to deal with situations as well as you. Young teens aren't the only ones suffering from mental disorders after all."
lagunalady27: "I taught in public secondary schools for over 40 years. I remember when every secondary school in California had (school resource officers). It was fabulous. They often diffused problems before they could get really bad. Sometimes, they learned about situations in the planning and avoided them altogether. Everyone felt safer then."
A few commenters suggested that school resource officers don't keep schools safe or build positive relationships with students, but instead, feed young people into the prison system.
S Bradford: "In schools that are low-income or of color, they contribute to the school-to-prison pipeline and involve more kids in the justice system, something that has lasting negative consequences. Often (school resource officers) arrest or cite kids for behavior that has traditionally been handled within the school."
And some aren't sure whether police can really help.
Jack Halbert: "Police in schools is just a placebo, a false sense of security. If some crazed lunatic really wanted to shoot at schoolchildren, they don't even have to enter the school. It's more important to have realistic background checks, including what types of psychotropic or psychiatric medications someone is on at the time."
gabzgrl: "So, not to burst the bubble, police officers are people too. … How can having more guns inside schools solve the issue of gun violence? … You can't really avoid more human error by subjecting schoolchildren to being surrounded by these men and women officers with weapons/guns.
"If it works and does prevent more episodes of gun violence I'm all for it. I don't really disagree; we have a right to own guns; on the other hand we have to ensure that we can trust each other.
What do you think will keep schools safer? Share your thoughts, ideas and experiences in the comments.