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Some rural Missouri schools have been arming teachers for years

Fairview School is a public pre-K through 8th grade school in the West Plains area.
Fairview School is a public pre-K through 8th grade school in the West Plains area.

Some schools in south-central Missouri have created their own measures to stop a mass shooter: arming teachers. The move is not without controversy—but these extremely rural communities say it was their best option for safety.

For many schools, the 2012 shooting at Sandy Hook Elementary, which killed 26 people, was a wake-up call. Aaron Sydow, Superintendent of the K-8 Fairview School District in West Plains, says his community looked to the school board for help.

“When Sandy Hook actually occurred, just after that, we had a lot of public outcry, locally," Sydow told KSMU. "Parents [asked], ‘How are you going to protect the kids here? We want you to do something.’” 

Fairview board members reached out to a security contractor named Greg Martin. He created a program for school employees, including teachers, to carry concealed firearms in the classroom.

Martin founded Shield Solutions, a firm that trains staff at businesses and schools in firearm skills. Its programs are currently used in more than 35 schools, mostly in south-central Missouri.

Martin says teachers and staff who are recruited for the program go through a series of mental and physical tests before being approved to carry a weapon.

“We don’t just cut them loose with a firearm," Martin said. "During that initial week, they get a mental assessment. They do a drug screening.” 

Martin says participants also have to complete 24 more hours of training every year to stay armed in school. The training includes firearm safety, security tactics, and medical training.

At Fairview, staff are required to complete 36 hours of training, often on weekends or holidays to get familiar with their school’s layout.

Martin calls the epidemic of mass shootings “horrible,” and that giving teachers weapons is unpleasant, but necessary to protect children.

“I never thought this would be something we would be talking about. Talking about arming staff members. Even when Fairview called me, I was like, ‘We can’t do that. I mean, why?’” 

Critics say arming teachers could lead to accidents or unnecessary fear, and that it puts an unfair burden on schools. Meanwhile, Shield Solutions continues to expand into more school districts.

And Superintendent Aaron Sydow says the school board’s proposal was passed with broad community support. Some people objected—but he says most teachers and parents are happy with the program, which has been running for nine years.

“I guess the biggest question that came up, or the statement was that, ‘You can’t expect a teacher to go in a classroom and teach and be armed,’” he said. “And I thought that’s kind of one of the dumbest things I’ve probably heard. Why can’t you?” 

Sydow says the most important part of the program is to deter potential shooters.

“We have signs out in front of our building that say we have armed staff, and if you come to do harm, you will be met with force,” Sydow said.

Participating schools often don’t disclose which teachers are armed; parents and community members are usually not aware who has a gun and who doesn’t.

The NRA has voiced support for the idea of arming staff members in schools, but most education groups are against it, including the National Education Association and several student groups.

Josh Conaway is a graduate of Missouri State University with a B.A. in Political Science and an M.A. in International Affairs. He works as a news reporter and announcer at KSMU. His favorite part of the job is exploring the rich diversity of the Ozarks and meeting people with interesting stories to share. He has a passion for history and running.