By Brian Lopez/The Texas Tribune
A survey of nearly 4,000 K-12 teachers in Texas found that most do not want to be armed while in class or be expected to intercept a gunman at school, according to the state’s teachers union, which released its survey results Wednesday.
The Texas American Federation of Teachers sent an online questionnaire to its 65,000 members, which include public school teachers, support personnel and higher education employees, a week after an 18-year-old gunman killed 21 people — including 19 children — at Robb Elementary School in Uvalde. Soon after the shooting, Texas Republicans said the solution could be arming teachers.
A total of 5,100 members responded to the union’s survey, including 3,673 secondary school teachers. Of those K-12 teachers, 76% of them answered “no” when asked, “Do you want to be armed?” About 90% of all school employees who responded said they are worried about a shooting happening at their school.
Texas AFT’s membership includes public school teachers and employees, as well as those who work at colleges and universities.
Zeph Capo, president of the Texas AFT, said at a press conference Wednesday that the Texas Legislature has made it easier for people to buy guns instead of focusing on protecting the lives of children.
“We’re depending on the United States Congress to take action because what the Texas Legislature has shown us is rather than doing things to fix it, they want to put Band-Aids on it,” he said.
Capo called on Texans to vote in November for people who will bring real change to gun policy and protect Texan students and teachers.
Nearly a decade ago, Texas lawmakers created the school marshal program, a way for educators to carry weapons inside schools. But since then, only 84 school districts have opted to have such a program. In those districts, only 361 people have become licensed school marshals across a state that has 9,000 campuses and more than 369,000 public school teachers.
The survey of Texas school employees found that there is an overwhelming support for stricter enforcement of guns.
Of all those who answered the survey, 98% support red flag laws, which would allow local officials to take someone’s guns away if a judge declares them to be a danger; 96% want the minimum age for legal gun purchases raised from 18 to 21; and 83% support a ban on assault weapons.
Texas Democrats have already called for a special legislative session to pass sweeping gun reform.
The Uvalde shooting may also have ramifications to Texas’ already struggling teacher workforce. Slightly less than half of those surveyed said the shooting may affect their decision to leave teaching.
Over the last two years, the pandemic and attacks on teachers have exacerbated the state’s teacher shortage. It has become such a major issue for school districts that Gov. Greg Abbott created a task force to come up with ways to solve it.
Across the state, teachers in Texas are finishing out one of the toughest years they have ever seen.
Since the pandemic hit two years ago, teachers have had to navigate a series of disruptions caused by the coronavirus — first the closure of schools and the switch to online education, then a return to classrooms last fall that was marred twice by major outbreaks.
At the same time, they have had to face parents angry about mask mandates and learn to tailor history lessons about racism to keep students from feeling “uncomfortable,” per a state law passed last year.
Katrina Rasmussen, a Dallas high school teacher and union member who attended AFT’s news conference, said schools are supposed to be one of the safest places for communities, yet the only answer she hears is more guns.
“I’ve seen student and teacher deaths mounting, and yet all I hear from policymakers is empty rhetoric,” she said. “I asked my legislators, ‘Is turning my learning community into a militarized zone really the best you can come up with?’”
This story is republished with permission of The Texas Tribune, a nonprofit, nonpartisan media organization that informs Texans — and engages with them — about public policy, politics, government and statewide issues.