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Arming teachers trails other school security measures preferred by parents

The annual PDK poll finds that parents lack strong confidence that schools can protect their children against school shootings but favor armed police, mental health screenings, and metal detectors more than arming teachers to protect their children.

Security concerns run high after a year marked by horrific school shootings, with just 27% of K-12 parents in the 50th annual PDK Poll of the Public’s Attitudes Toward the Public Schools expressing strong confidence that their school could deter an attack like those that have wrenched communities across the nation.

Reaching for solutions, parents overwhelmingly support mental health screening of all students, armed police in the schools, and metal detectors at entrances. Support for allowing teachers and other school staff to carry guns is much lower — 67% of parents prefer not to have their child in a classroom where the teacher is armed, and 63% generally oppose allowing teachers and staff to carry guns. Still, that shifts to an even split if rigorous training and screening are provided.

Regardless, most parents don’t believe that armed staff would make their child safer at school — just 26% say so vs. 36% who say students would be less safe. The rest see no difference.

A total of 72% in the national survey are less than extremely or very confident in their school’s security. Forty-one percent are “somewhat” confident — a weak result where student lives are concerned — and 31% are less confident than that.

One in three parents, moreover, fears for their child’s physical safety in school, up sharply to a level last seen two decades ago.

Security Chart Confidence 300

Eighty percent of parents support armed police in the schools, 76% endorse mental health screening of all students, and 74% support placing metal detectors at school entrances — all far higher than support for arming teachers and staff. Indeed, parents oppose allowing teachers and school staff to carry guns 63% to 37%. But support for allowing armed teachers and staff rises to 49% if training and screening programs are in place.

Security Chart Proposals 300

Further, when faced with a choice of spending money on armed guards in school or on mental health services for students, the public overwhelmingly prioritizes mental health services — 76% to 23% among all Americans and 71% to 28% among school parents.

These results are from a new random-sample national survey on issues in public education by Phi Delta Kappa, the international association of public school educators. The survey has been conducted annually since 1969, first as the PDK/Gallup Poll, and since 2016 as the PDK Poll, produced for the association by Langer Research Associates.

This year’s study was conducted among 1,042 adults, including an oversample to 515 parents of school-aged children, via the GfK KnowledgePanel®, in which survey panelists are randomly recruited and provided with internet access to complete surveys online.\

Most of the study’s results are being held for their traditional back-to-school release in late August. But after a school year that included two of the top five deadliest K-12 school shootings in U.S. history, PDK is electing to make results on school security available now as a contribution to the public discourse on this critical issue.

Broadly, the survey finds opportunities for progress, with consensus across political lines relating to enhanced security and, most prominently, mental health screening and services. Views on arming teachers or other school staff, by contrast, are sharply partisan. Republicans are more amenable to the idea, particularly when training and screening are included, while most Democrats remain opposed, half strongly so.

Differences, partisan and otherwise, also are apparent in evaluating current security. Security is less of a concern for wealthier, white, and well-educated adults. Lower-income, less-educated, minority, and urban parents are more likely to fear for their child’s safety at school and have less confidence in their school’s ability to deter shooters.

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