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In the wake of Uvalde, B-N teachers want change — not guns

People visit memorials Thurday for victims of the mass shooting at Robb Elementary School in Uvalde, Texas.
Michael M. Santiago
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People visit memorials Thurday for victims of the mass shooting at Robb Elementary School in Uvalde, Texas.

Teachers are the people with whom we trust our children's developing minds and spirits. They’re the people who we expect will teach our kids to read, write, and find the square root of pi. But more than that, teachers are increasingly becoming people we expect to protect our children from school shooters. Teachers are now the people expected to barricade doors against assailants; to shepherd frightened kids out of classroom windows.

And teachers are now the people who will occasionally die alongside their students, as did two teachers in last week’s massacre in Uvalde, Texas. And as they did in Sandy Hook before Uvalde, and in Columbine before Sandy Hook.

On the morning following the massacre in Uvalde, Corey Beirne sat in his car and cried. Then he composed himself and went to work, standing in front of a classroom in a country that just marked its 27th school shooting this year alone. In response, familiar calls to increase school security and “harden targets” have intensified. Politicians, including Texas Sen. Ted Cruz, have suggested installing bulletproof windows in schools and reducing entry points to a single door. There have been calls for armed guards and even arming the teachers themselves.

For Beirne, who teaches music in Unit 5, that’s not a solution.

“I haven't even devoted any thought to it because it's such an asinine idea,” he said.

As the country charges into yet another debate over school shootings, Beirne is tired of questions about what schools should be doing to prevent them.

“I’d like to see the focus shift from what schools are doing, and what should they be doing, to the weapons and the guns,” he said. “Because I am infuriated by the fact that the narrative is focused on the schools instead of on the prevalence of weapons in our towns.”

Not all teachers are comfortable speaking out like Beirne. WGLT spoke with an area teacher who asked to remain anonymous because she fears backlash. She said the fact is, weapons are in our town. And given that reality, schools and children should be protected in the same way that banks and federal buildings are — by guards with guns.

Beirne said that's not a realistic idea.

“One elementary school that I taught in this year … we ran out of paper. We ran out of white paper and we didn't have the money to go out and get more white paper. And now we're talking about posting armed guards,” he said.

The idea of arming teachers is even more unrealistic, Beirne said. Without money for things like white paper, he wonders where school districts would find the kind of money to buy guns for every teacher.

“But if it does by some perverted miracle get pushed through, it will be my last day in the school,” Beirne said. ”I will not teach when there are weapons in the school when we're expected to carry.”

Brandon Thornton, a teacher at Bloomington High School, said asking teachers to carry guns misses a critical point.

"Because when you ask us to be armed, you're really asking us to take a life of another student,” Thornton said. “Because most of these shootings are a former student, right? I don't think people realize that. You're asking us to make the choice to harm another student, which is a really hard ask.”

Like Beirne, Thornton doesn't believe the onus for protecting students from shooters should fall on schools — or teachers.

“This is not what we signed up for. We signed up for low salaries. We knew we'd have to spend money to buy supplies. We knew that we'd have to do tornado drills and fire drills. But we didn't not think that we would have to arm ourselves,” he said.

Teachers already do enough, Thornton said. So the changes are going to have to come from lawmakers.

“I know it's hard to as a legislator to make a choice that might anger your constituents. But I have to make choices all the time that don’t please all of my students, or all of my parents. And we're just asking them to make the same sort of decisions. Because enough is enough.”

In the meantime, Thornton has a plan in place for dealing with a school shooter. And it's something he's gone over with his students time and time again. He tells them: “If someone were to walk in this door right now, I will tackle them. And you have to step over my body.”

He’s not kidding, he has to tell his students. If something happens, don’t look back, don’t hesitate. Just step over my body and run.

The teacher who asked WGLT for anonymity said she has a similar plan. She teaches students with special needs who wouldn't be able to run from a shooter. She herself has physical limitations that would make escape nearly impossible. So, in the event that a shooter enters her classroom, the teacher plans to put herself between the gun and her students.

For as long as she possibly can.

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Sarah Nardi is a WGLT reporter. She previously worked for the Chicago Reader covering Arts & Culture.
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