November 14 — 3:15 pm, 2018

In Pa. coal country, debate flares over arming teachers to prevent school shootings

Many parents say they are pro-gun, but against arming teachers or other school personnel.

Jen Kinney

Tamaqua parent Rebecca Kowalski criticizes the school board's new policy that would authorize the training and arming of some teachers and staff. (Matt Smith for Keystone Crossroads)

Nearly three hours into a special meeting about a policy that would ask some staff at the Tamaqua Area School District to carry guns, parent Liz Pinkey read aloud a letter from educators at Sandy Hook Elementary School.

They had written to the Pennsylvania State Senate last year, when lawmakers were debating a bill to allow personnel with concealed-carry permits to be armed on school property.

“We would like to make something clear,” the teachers wrote. “We would not have wanted that option, nor would it have made us or our students safer. In fact, it might have made things even worse.” They signed it, “the surviving educators of the Sandy Hook school massacre.”

When Pinkey finished reading, Tamaqua School Board President Larry Wittig replied, referring to the Sandy Hook educators who did not survive, “I would add to that, if we could speak to the six adults who are no longer here, they may have a different opinion.”

A shocked groan went up from the crowd of more than 150 parents and residents who had gathered in a middle school cafeteria last week to hear perspectives for and against arming staff. It’s become a controversial issue in this small Schuylkill County town in Northeastern Pennsylvania’s coal region, where guns are commonplace but opinions are divided on their role in schools.

“Guns are a part of the culture here. We have off the first day of buck hunting season — from school, from work, from everything,” said Pinkey, a parent to three children in the school district, in an interview. “We’re not against guns. My husband is very pro-gun, very N.R.A., and even he said these are just not the right hands to be putting weapons into.”

Read and listen to this story at WHYY News

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