Kevin and Andrew McCarthy have a lot in common. They are brothers who grew up on Long Island, New York, they’re teammates on the Castleton men’s lacrosse team and they both plan to pursue teaching careers.
But when the issue of how to keep schools safe and prevent mass school shootings like what happened in Florida last month comes up, their opinions are very different. Those different opinions are a symbol of the wide range of views people have across the country about how to keep schools safe – from arming teachers to providing better mental health services to installing metal detectors in schools.
But for Kevin and Andrew, the issue is especially important because teachers are often the first line of protection for students. In the recent shooting in Parkland, Florida at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School, 17 people were killed and three were adult school employees trying to protect students.
As the lacrosse team bus rumbled back to the Castleton campus from a game in Massachusetts, the two brothers debated the best approaches for making schools safer.
Kevin, a senior at Castleton, said he is ok with teachers being allowed to carry weapons to make schools safer.
“With proper precautions, teachers should be armed and have to be trained,” said the geology major who wants to be a science teacher. “Some form of armed security in the building will stop it from getting worse. Custodians, teachers, or security – as long as somebody is armed.”
Andrew, a freshman at Castleton, plans to teach physical education and disagrees with his brother.
“I think teachers should focus on teaching,” and not on being armed security guards, he said.
The issue of gun violence in schools, and especially mass shootings, has seemingly become more serious and prevalent in recent years. In addition to the Florida shooting, there have been other horrible events including the mass shooting in 2012 at Sandy Hook Elementary school in Connecticut where a shooter murdered 26 people, most of them young children.
Monica McEnerny, the chair of the Education Department at Castleton, taught 7th and 8th grade English for 12 years in public schools.
“I say safety and security is the number one priority for us and our students,” McEnerny said.
But to improve safety and security in schools, McEnery said she thinks there needs to be more attention paid to students’ mental health issues.
“I am extremely concerned about the mental health of students,” she said. “We must be mindful of the mental health of our young people across the country.”
Harry Chaucer, a public-school teacher in several communities in Vermont, has been an education professor at Castleton for 17 years, preparing future teachers. He was very troubled by the Florida shooting and all the school shootings that preceded it, because he said it is a problem that is only happening in the United States. It is awful, he said, that students have to do “active shooter drills” regularly in schools.
“Many teachers have died protecting their children,” Chaucer said.
That atmosphere, he said, is not good for students.
“Fears and anxieties are detrimental to learning,” he said. “When they show the face of a 12-year-old or 17-year-old who has been buried, it just makes me sick.”
Chaucer believes the nation needs to create stronger restrictions on guns, especially the assault rifles often used in mass shootings.
“You shouldn’t be able to roll off 30 shots in a few seconds,” he said. “What possible legitimate reason is there for doing that?”
But he said he understands why schools need to have plans in place for how to react when these situations happen.
“In those situations, you need to improvise, but you still need a plan,” he said.
Chaucer opposes the idea of arming teachers. He prefers seeing an armed police officer at the front of the school.
Kerrigan Davis, a Castleton freshman who is a secondary education major, wants to teach students to love reading and writing. She is passionate about literature.
She is troubled by the idea that a person can just walk into a school with a gun. To decrease that possibility, she wants schools to put in place more metal detectors for entrances.
“More security needs to be prevalent around the nation,” Davis said.
But she doesn’t think that teachers should be armed.
“Students will have less focus in class if a teacher has a gun,” she said. “Psychologically, students need to feel safe for them to do their work. I think guns would create uncertainty.”
Plus, she thinks that armed teachers could respond in a terrible way as she talked about how nerves and anxiety could cause a teacher to shoot the wrong person in the moment.
But even though the school shootings are on her mind and she believes schools need to be made safer, Davis is committed to getting her degree and going into the teaching profession.
“The shooting didn’t deter me at all (from wanting to teach),” she said. “I want to help make these events stop.”