HARRISBURG — A gun control activist is worried that an attempt to clarify training requirements for armed security in schools muddies the water about whether schools can arm teachers.
Gov. Tom Wolf said those concerns are misplaced and that his administration made sure the changes in Senate Bill 621 can’t be used to allow teachers to carry guns in school.
Speaking to reporters on Thursday, Wolf noted he went so far as to pen a letter when he signed the legislation into law indicating that school districts shouldn’t try to use the legislation to justify arming teachers.
In that letter, Wolf said all schools will be notified by the Department of Education that the legislation “bars teachers from being armed.”
“I want teachers to teach,” he said.
The legislation was authored by state Sen. Mike Regan, R-Cumberland County.
“The bottom line is that this legislation provides schools with options to allow them to continue protecting their students and staff as they see fit,” Regan said when Wolf signed the bill on July 2, making it Act 67.
He said it was necessary because the state’s school code didn’t allow armed private security guards or sheriff’s deputies to carry weapons in schools. The law only allowed police officers to carry firearms in schools.
The legislation sets the training requirements that schools must use if they want to arm security guards. Under Act 67, those requirements include: Successfully complete the Municipal Police Officers’ Education and Training or having graduated from the State Police Academy and have been employed as a State Trooper. To be armed, the guards must also take the Basic School Resource Officer Course of Instruction or an equivalent program approved by the state Commission on Crime and Delinquency, according to a summary completed by legislative staff.
Despite the governor’s insistence that the legislation is clear, gun-control groups say they fear some school officials may use the legislation to arm teachers, said Shira Goodman, executive director of CeaseFire PA.
She suggested schools could try to circumvent the intent of the legislation by saying that an educator is working part-time as a teacher and part-time as a security guard.
Goodman said that while the concerns might seem “speculative” now, it’s clear that there are school officials in a number of places across the state exploring whether they feel they can arm teachers. She's not alone in raising the alarm. CeaseFire PA was joined by the Education Law Center when the groups issued a statement expressing their disappointment over Wolf's decision to sign SB 621 into law.
Her group has been involved with efforts to stop the Tamaqua School District in Schuylkill County from implementing a plan to arm teachers. In the wake of Act 67, the school board in Tamaqua voted this week to rescind a plan that would have armed teachers, she said. The school board has now announced plans to form a local commission to provide the district with recommendations about how to respond to an active shooter situation, Goodman said.
Goodman said that whether the people carrying guns are teachers or security guards, her group believes putting more guns in schools is a bad idea. She said schools would be better off putting their attention better recognizing when children are dealing with mental health problems to prevent acts of violence.
Tamaqua isn’t the only place where the issue has been debated, she said. For instance, school officials in Indiana County had explored the idea of arming teachers, prompting then-Sen. Donald White, R-Indiana County, to introduce legislation that would have explicitly allowed schools to give teachers guns. White’s bill passed the state Senate in 2017 but died in the state House. White retired earlier this year.