Valley Streamers react to state ban on arming teachers

Nicole Alcindor for LI Herald

Originally published in Long Island Herald

Gov. Andrew Cuomo signed legislation banning the arming of teachers in New York classrooms on July 21.

The law was co-sponsored by State Sen. Todd Kaminsky and by State Assemblywoman Judy Griffin, and was introduced after certain officials, including President Trump, had called for arming teachers in the wake of the 2018 mass shooting at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School in Parkland, Fla. The law will limit the carrying of firearms in schools to licensed security guards and resources officers.

“While hundreds of districts across the country have decided to arm teachers in response to mass shootings, in New York we said, ‘Not here,’” Kaminsky said. “Only trained professionals should carry guns, because arming teachers is dangerous and takes our focus off getting weapons out of the hands of those who should not have them.”

The law received a generally positive response among Valley Stream residents, students and school officials who spoke with the Herald, with a majority saying that only licensed security and law enforcement personnel should carry firearms on school grounds. 

“I’m afraid that allowing guns into classrooms would turn into another way of victimizing students who simply want to learn, and it would cause students to be fearful in the classroom,” said Anthony Cruz, a recent Central High School graduate. “I think having armed teachers would increase the number of incidents where teachers confront students rather than dealing with problems in a restorative way.”

Cruz supports the law, he said, and hopes that school districts will continue to find new ways of securing schools without placing the burden on teachers.

“I’m happy this law was signed, because I’ll be able to go to school knowing there is no possibility that a teacher can have a gun in his or her desk or anywhere near a classroom or hallway,” said Aman Islam, a Central senior and an intern for Kaminsky. “Teachers should be in schools to teach, not to shoot.” 

Valley Stream district officials were also generally supportive of the law.

“I think it’s a good law because we employ teachers to teach, not to be armed guards,” said School District 13 Trustee Bill Stris. “Even if the law wasn’t signed, it wouldn’t make any difference because no one on the Board of Education would want to arm teachers.”

“It’s a sad commentary on where we are as a society that we are even discussing the option of teachers being armed with guns,” said Dr. Don Sturz, School District 24 superintendent.

He said the emotional well-being of the students and teachers in his district is paramount, and that the law would protect teachers from the stress of having to arm themselves.

“Our district works closely with Nassau County Homeland Security officers, and has followed their guidance with regard to implementing security measures in our school buildings,” Sturz said. “I support the law, because teachers should not be burdened with the responsibility of carrying a firearm, and children should not have their fears and anxieties further heightened by the presence of guns in classrooms.” 

Valley Stream’s three other school superintendents either declined or could not be reached for comment.

Reactions from residents and parents were also generally positive.

“I don’t want guns in the hands of untrained people, nor should teachers be asked to defend students,” said Andrew Lestingi. “I wouldn’t have trusted any teacher I ever had or any teacher my kids have with a gun in the classroom.”

Others were critical of the law, saying that it has made school buildings potential targets for mass shooters.

“I feel well-trained personnel should be able to conceal guns in school in case the need arises,” said Lillian Russo, responding to a Herald social media inquiry. “What are the drills going to do if everyone huddles in a corner like sitting ducks?”

Resident Tom Chen agreed, writing, “This law makes it so much easier for a criminal who wants to commit an atrocity to do so with absolutely no resistance.”

Wade Kern, however, said the law would have no effect on him, and in his opinion it shouldn’t impact anyone else. “This isn’t an epidemic that teachers have guns in class,” Kern said. “This law means nothing, because it has been against the law for decades for even a person with a permit to have a gun [at] an educational institution in New York.”