About half of parents still say school police officers or armed security in schools would be extremely or very effective in preventing school shootings, according to a Pew Research Center survey of 3,757 parents released Tuesday. The support remained high despite calls to get rid of school resource officers in the wake of the Black Lives Matter protests and more recent scrutiny after footage of the Uvalde, Texas, shooting showed slow police response to the May massacre.
About half (49%) of parents also say arming teachers or administrators would be effective to varying degrees, with 25% saying that would be somewhat effective and 24% saying very or extremely effective.
Support for police officers or armed security guards in schools is higher among Republicans (61%) than Democrats (38%), as is support for arming teachers and administrators. Republicans were almost four times more likely than Democrats to support arming educators, at 41% of Republicans versus 11% of Democrats.
Like many other recent controversial and politically charged issues in K-12, school safety and gun violence prevention has caused fissures among the public and within the education sector. The Pew report showed Republicans were most likely to cite having police officers or armed security stationed in schools as a preventative measure, while Democratic parents were most likely to say improving mental health screening and treatment would be effective.
Ohio's Republican Gov. Mike DeWine, for example, signed legislation making it easier for teachers to carry firearms in schools by reducing the maximum initial training hours required. The National Association of School Resource Officers recommends against the practice of arming teachers.
Support for that school safety tactic was largely split among party lines, the Pew survey showed.
The overall high percentage of parents in agreement that arming teachers would be effective to varying degrees is similar to findings in another survey released by Phi Delta Kappan International in August, that 45% of the general public and 43% of public school parents somewhat or strongly supported arming teachers. The support in that survey was not much different from prior years, however, suggesting that parents did not see arming teachers and administrators as a panacea.
On the other hand, support for improving mental health screening and treatment was high among both parties in the Pew survey, with 55% of Republicans and 70% of Democrats favoring it as a preventative measure for school shootings.
Mental wellness among K-12 students has received increased attention — including from federal lawmakers — and especially following COVID-19 closures, after which educators said they saw more incidents of bullying and higher rates of mental health issues like anxiety and depression. Bullying prevention and response are often cited as an approach to school shooting prevention.
According to the National Center for Education Statistics, the 2020-21 school year had the highest number of school shooting casualties in the past two decades, despite the pandemic keeping many students home.
The Pew survey shows nearly a third of parents (32%) say they are very or extremely worried about a shooting happening at their children's school, and another 37% of parents said they are somewhat worried.
Concerns varied starkly by race and income. Black (40%) and Hispanic parents (50%) were almost twice as likely as White parents (22%) to say they are very or extremely worried about the possibility of a shooting.
Nearly half of lower-income K-12 parents (49%) said they are very or extremely worried about a school shooting happening at their children's school, compared to 26% of middle-income parents and 19% of upper-income parents.