This story was updated on Friday, Jan. 18 at 11:30 a.m.
Teachers do not want to carry guns in schools, according to a survey of local educators released Thursday.
The Fairfax County Federation of Teachers, a local chapter of the American Federation of Teachers, posted a web-based survey of its members, asking “Do you believe there should be guns in schools.” Of the 483 respondents, 59 percent (or 285) said no. Only 5 percent (23 educators) said yes. However, 34 percent of respondents said “It depends on who has them and the circumstances surround that.”
Teachers were able to add their comments at the end of the survey.
“The day I am told I must work in an environment where guns are part of my work environment is the day I submit my retirement papers,” wrote one educator.
Another said, “If guns are put in schools as a security measure, I will leave the field of teaching. Funding comes from a limited resource as it is and if more money is funneled toward heightened security — that could not possible stop a Sandy [Hook Elementary School] –type tragedy anyway — students and teachers will lose out.”
The survey comes in the wake of raised school-safety concerns caused by last month’s Sandy Hook Elementary School mass shootings, which resulted in the deaths of 20 children and six adults.
The decision to conduct a survey was made in direct response to Virginia Gov. Robert F. McDonnell’s Dec. 18 interview with WTOP radio, during which time he said he supported a discussion on arming school officials, said Fairfax County Federation of Teachers President Steven Greenburg.
“It started to bother me that the one perspective I wasn’t hearing from [in coverage of school safety] was the teachers,” he said. “We heard from the parents. We heard from the experts… I think in a bigger sense, that was the reason [for the survey]. There can be no priority in education higher than making sure you are providing a safe learning environment.”
The federation’s survey results were forwarded to the School Board and Superintendent Jack D. Dale on Thursday. Greenburg said previously he had heard from several Board members interested in the results.
While a majority of those surveyed voiced opposition to arming educators, some commented that — if done responsibly — guns could make schools safer.
“The guns have to be safely stored so there is absolutely no way a student, parent volunteer, or other unauthorized person may access it,” wrote one educator. “Only guns issued to FCPS should be allowed in the schools.”
Another educator wrote, “If principals are trained in how to handle a handgun and feel comfortable having one that is in a secure place, I would agree it may be helpful in order to stop someone and save lives. Not sure if [I] agree for teachers unless [they are] again trained in use.”
The survey also included responses from teachers on the role of School Resource Officers, who are members of the county police force assigned to schools, and other safety concerns they might have. Currently, officers are assigned to each middle, secondary and high schools, totaling 53 officers based in schools, according to FCPS.
In 2012, Fairfax County Public Schools included questions on school safety in its Working Conditions Survey. The survey included responses from some 12,406 educators, of which 10,516 were teachers. According to the FCPS survey, 72 percent of respondents said they felt the physical environment of the schools is safe.
While the immediate local reaction to the Sandy Hook Elementary shootings included increased police patrols outside of schools in the week that followed, school system officials said existing safety measures are being reinforced. “Some schools have reviewed and revised their visitor access procedures,” FCPS spokesman John Torre said. Visitor access was among the concerns voiced by teachers in the Fairfax County Federation of Teachers survey.
On guns, the superintendent of schools has indicated opposition to arming teachers and school personnel.
Note: This story has been updated to include additional information and comments from school system officials.