Presence of weapons in classrooms debated for school safety


Mackenzie Clarke, Staff Reporter

On the teacher’s desk, there is a pile of homework to grade, a week-old cup of coffee, a framed picture of a family member, and a box of ammunition for the handgun in the holster around his or her waist.

“I don’t think that we as a society should drive ourselves towards the point of having 20 to 30 loaded weapons on campus, I really don’t think that it guarantees safety,” said school resource officer Diana Ruiz-Jara

At Sequoia, that sounds like a far cry from reality, and it is, for now. California’s Gun-Free School Zone Act prohibits the possession of firearms within 1,000 feet of public and private school campuses, excluding campus security officers.

“I would refuse to carry a gun, absolutely. The idea is insane to me,history teacher Nancy Berry said.

However, in 28 states across the nation, it is fully legal for any adult with a concealed weapon permit to carry a loaded gun on a school campus, from elementary schools to high schools. Directly after the events of the Sandy Hook Elementary School shooting tragedy in 2012, the states of Alabama, Kansas, South Dakota, Tennessee and Texas passed laws allowing teachers and staff to possess firearms. In those states, laws allow teachers who have concealed carry permits to have loaded guns in classrooms without having to inform the parents of their students.

Within the last 100 years, there have been 36 school shootings in the state of California, 25 of which resulted in multiple fatalities. In the last two years, there have been at least 162 school shootings across America.

On Jan. 14, Sequoia practiced its annual active shooter drill in which students, teachers and administration all ran through the motions of the procedure to follow in the event of such an emergency. Students were required to practice building barricades around all entry points

in classrooms and teachers exercised a pre-planned system designed to keep all students as safe as possible. As students sat in complete tense silence, the only sound that echoed through the halls was that of administration and police officers pounding on doors to ensure that they had been properly locked.

Currently at Sequoia, there is only one staff member who is allowed to carry a weapon on campus under California laws. Diana Ruiz-Jara, the school resource officer, carries both a gun and a taser. Her normal day-to-day job includes ensuring the overall safety of the school, engaging with students and staff to help deal with any conflicts that may arise at home or at school and creating healthy relationships with students.

“One of my goals is to bridge the gap, that old-school conspiracy that police are to be feared or you just call them when you have an issue,” Ruiz-Jara said. “There are a lot of negative connotations that come with law enforcement, and I want it to be more of a supportive environment rather than a punishment.

Ruiz-Jara works within the Sequoia community to ensure that students view law enforcement as people who are there to help, not just to arrest them or give them speeding tickets.

“I want students to see that I’m an individual and so much more than just a walking badge and gun, not someone to be feared.” Ruiz-Jara said.

The main justification for Ruiz to be armed is because her job description includes protecting Sequoia students in the event of an intruder. Part of her training with the Redwood City Police Department includes emergency procedures in the event of a hostile figure on campus, a situation that has become all too common and all too real. The RCPD participate in every emergency drill practiced and know the schools in the district inside out- entry points, where to move kids safely, and  where to bring in ambulances and other assistance.  

Although she carries a weapon, Officer Ruiz-Jara does not advocate their widespread use by teachers in schools as a way to protect students.

“I don’t think that we as a society should drive ourselves towards the point of having 20 to 30 loaded weapons on campus, I really don’t think that it guarantees safety.” said Ruiz-Jara. “There would be more chaos, more friendly fire, and I don’t see how that would be beneficial.”

Recently, the idea of making a nation-wide law for teachers to carry weapons is one heavily discussed and supported by some members of the Republican party. Presidential candidates Ben Carson and Donald Trump both have fully voiced their support recently, believing that arming teachers would make schools significantly more safe. During a campaign rally in Vermont, Trump said, “There will be no more ‘gun-free zones.’ You know what a gun-free zone is to a sicko? That’s bait. My first day, [a law permitting teachers to carry weapons]gets signed.”

School shootings are inarguably a serious and harrowing problem, but many believe that arming teachers just isn’t the right solution.

The National Parent Teacher Association agrees that teachers should do anything possible to keep students safe, but voiced in a press release that it believes  schools should remain a gun-free safe climate.

“I would definitely not feel comfortable knowing one of my teachers was carrying a weapon,” said sophomore Clara MacAvoy, who feels that guns have no place in the classroom. “It’s absolutely ludicrous.”

Regardless of whether or not a law is potentially implemented across the nation, violence in schools is still a very prevalent and real danger in each of the 50 states. In a time of chaos, much importance has been placed in assuring students that they can learn and thrive in a secure school environment.

“Sequoia is the biggest school that the RCPD covers, so if we were to have a major incident, there would be a lot on my shoulders,”Ruiz-Jara said. “There is a lot expected out of me, and with that comes a lot of feeling of responsibility. My one focus is the safety of this school.