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Detroit police and schools chiefs disagree on guns in schools

Tracy Samilton
Michigan Radio

Detroit schools superintendent Nikolai Vitti is crystal clear about his position on potentially arming teachers: It’s a bad idea, and the vast majority of teachers feel that way too.

Detroit Police Chief James Craig has a different view: that arming some highly-trained, qualified and vetted teachers would provide an “extra layer of security,” and is one option for making schools into “harder targets” for attacks like mass shootings.

Vitti and Craig clashed over the issue, politely, at the Detroit Policy Conference on Thursday, where the larger topic was “civility.”

Vitti says the Detroit Public Schools Community District has no intention of arming anyone in a school setting other than law enforcement. He thinks this debate is shaping up like so many others around school issues: with educators’ voices largely ignored.

“If teachers who are working with kids every day are saying,'We don’t want to be armed and we don’t want more people among us that are armed in schools,' then we should stop talking about this,” Vitti said.

“This is what unfortunately is happening in K-12 policy in this state and throughout the country, is we don’t listen to the practitioners. We don’t listen to the people that are actually doing the work. We turn these conversations into ideological ones. This is a really simple matter that shouldn’t even be discussed.”

Vitti says school districts have a duty to work with police to monitor social media for threats and take other reasonable precautions, but the issue is larger than school security. He said all countries have people struggling with mental illness or youthful alienation, but the U.S. doesn’t do enough to limit access their access to guns. “That is the difference between the United States and other countries in the world,” he said.

Craig says his stance stems from practicality — that places like schools and churches have proven to be “soft targets” for mass killers. “I never thought I’d see the day where we had to train clergy to deal with the possibility of an active shooter, but we just did that,” he said.

Craig was angry about some reports he says made it seem like he’s in favor of arming teachers “willy-nilly.” He said that would be irresponsible, and not an accurate representation of the selective measures he would take.

Craig says he also favors some additional gun control measures like more thorough background checks, but in general he’s been supportive of citizens being armed to prevent crime.

Craig also pushed back on some unnamed public officials who he felt were critical and “un-civil” toward him in the wake of his public stance on armed teachers, and suggested that maybe he shouldn’t get involved in this debate.

“It’s all about the safety of the children first. And any suggestion that I’m outside of my lane is totally incorrect,” Craig said.

“Any attack on a police officer, they didn’t say a word. But all of a sudden the chief talks about another option, an extra layer of security, without knowing the facts … they’re disrespectful.”

Sarah Cwiek joined Michigan Public in October 2009. As our Detroit reporter, she is helping us expand our coverage of the economy, politics, and culture in and around the city of Detroit.
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