Scolaro: Do we really want vigilante justice in our schools?

Former Sioux City School Board member Bernie Scolaro at the Iowa Capitol in 2023. Courtesy Bernie Scolaro

By Guest Post

February 13, 2024

On Jan. 4, a 17-year-old Perry High School student killed one sixth-grader and injured five others before killing himself.

In response to school shootings, Siouxland Christian School in Sioux City has decided to train and arm school staff members. However, to the contrary, there is no evidence showing that more guns decrease violence. In fact, it makes sense that more guns will create more potential for increased shootings, if only accidentally.

This idea is not new and the NRA-backed GOP legislators have often pushed for loosening gun laws and allowing easier gun access, even on school property. Woodbury County sheriff Chad Sheehan has recently been in the news to push for training staff as citizen deputies; in essence, arming school staff. School district administration and law enforcement would be the only ones to know which staff were deputized. So, sadly not surprising that HSB 675 has been introduced in the Safety Committee.

HSB 675 allows school employees to be issued professional permits to carry weapons and if current on their training, they are “entitled to qualified immunity from criminal or civil liability for all damages incurred pursuant to the application of reasonable force at the place of employment.”

How ironic for the push for public school staff members to be armed when school staff are hardly trusted to pick out books, or teach curriculum without government oversight. The danger goes beyond the irony.

Old Western TV shows have long depicted vigilante justice with people wanting to take law into their own hands. Arming school staff is a step above vigilante justice.

Often quoted is former CEO of the NRA, Wayne LaPierre, who says “to stop a bad guy with a gun, it takes a good guy with a gun.” That assumes equal footing between the two. For instance, like the old western cowboys in a “draw”- back to each other, counting steps and turning at the same time to shoot. This will not be the case for a teacher who suddenly is expected to risk his/her life and go after a person set on a shooting spree.

Even trained policemen fear these situations. According to the Texas Tribune report on the Uvalde school shooting, “…police who responded to the Robb Elementary shooting told investigators they were cowed by the shooter’s military-style rife. This drove their decision to wait for a Border Patrol SWAT team to engage him…”

In a best case scenario, the trained staff person is not around students at the moment a person with a gun enters the building (or is able to quickly barricade or move the students somewhere safely, then retrieve the locked gun from wherever it is stored, bravely go towards the gunfire, and fire at the target person without any student or nearby staff being killed in the crossfire or ricochet.

Most likely, the trained person will first humanly freeze or panic (maybe get an adrenaline rush and shoot prematurely killing an innocent person). Adults with students must first make sure their students are safe.

Armed school personnel sounds intriguing but there are too many potential risks and unintended consequences that come with more access to guns on a school campus. What if the gun is accidentally unlocked or taken by someone else? What if the armed staff person has a string of bad weeks and breaks mentally and emotionally? I do not expect teachers or bus drivers or lunch personnel to have to do anything but do what they are hired to do. They do not get combat pay.

Why is the focus not on increasing police presence on campus, more professional development of identifying at-risk students, and providing more mental health resources?

Why is the focus for school staff not on education? This bill does NOTHING to enhance education in our schools; likely why it has not been given to the House Education Committee.

May I suggest we increase funding for career education as I cannot believe I have to say this to legislators: Let police and SROs be law enforcers. Let teachers teach.


Bernie Scolaro is a retired school counselor, former Sioux City Education Association President, and former Sioux City School Board Member. You may reach her at [email protected].



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