The independent newspaper of the University of Iowa community since 1868

The Daily Iowan

The independent newspaper of the University of Iowa community since 1868

The Daily Iowan

The independent newspaper of the University of Iowa community since 1868

The Daily Iowan

Iowa lawmakers advance bill to arm teachers, require police officers in schools

Iowa House Republicans advanced a bill addressing school safety by arming teachers, requiring school resource officers, and creating a grant to fund the positions.
Ayrton Breckenridge
The Iowa State Capitol is seen during the first day of the 2024 Iowa legislative session at the Iowa State Capitol in Des Moines on Monday, Jan. 8, 2024.

Iowa House Republicans advanced a bill that would allow teachers to be armed on school grounds after a panel of Iowa lawmakers heard testimony on the bill on Monday.

House Study Bill 675 addresses school safety by creating a new permit to allow a school employee to carry a firearm on school grounds upon completion of several training requirements.

The bill would also require schools with enrollment over 8,000 students to employ at least one school resource officer or private security officer. Funds for these positions would be supplemented by the creation of a grant program within the Iowa Department of Education.

According to the bill, the Department of Education would provide annual grants to match funds provided by school districts with a cap of $50,000.

Lawmakers passed the bill along, 2-1, to the whole Iowa House Public Safety Committee. The bill is expected to be voted out of the committee before Friday’s legislative deadline which would kill bills that haven’t been reported out of their originating committees.

Iowa Reps. Skyler Wheeler, R-Orange City, and Phil Thompson, R-Boone, who both voted for the bill, are proud members of the National Rifle Association and received the organization’s endorsement during their 2022 campaign.

“The scariest place to be in America, I believe, is in a place with ‘gun-free zones’ posted all over the place,” Wheeler said during the hearing Monday.

Iowa Rep. Beth Wessel-Kroeschell, D-Ames, the only Democrat on the panel, was the sole opposing vote on the three-member panel. She cited the Parkland High School shooting in Florida, during which a school resource officer allegedly failed to confront the gunman.

“We need to make sure that our kids are safe in school by preventing this from happening,” she said.

Wessel-Kroeschell said it is wrong to ask teachers or other school employees to respond if fully trained individuals already have a hard time protecting students.

“We have cut our school districts to the bone,” Wessel-Kroeschell said. “We are losing so many professionals that would help us prevent this kind of tragedy, the kind of tragedy that happened in Perry.”

In June, two Iowa school districts rescinded policies allowing armed teachers in class to prevent being dropped by their insurance provider. A year after voting to arm staff, school boards for Spirit Lake and Cherokee school districts revoked the policy.

David Smith, the superintendent of the Spirit Lake Community School District, said the school is struggling to find a new insurance carrier after the debacle with EMC.

Smith spoke about the Perry High School Shooting and questioned if other people would be willing to put their lives on the line to protect their students like Perry Principal Dan Marburger, who died from his injuries after attempting to talk down the shooter.

The fatal shooting on Jan. 4 in Perry, Iowa, resulted in the death of sixth-grader Ahmir Jolliff and injured five others, including Marburger.

“All I’m asking is to give those people a chance to go home to their families, unlike the Perry Principle, because we know once the shooter is addressed, they engage with us, they stop killing people,” Smith said. “This is so important and needs to be addressed right now. We can’t go another day, another month. It’s when people say it’s not going to happen to us. It just happened right here in Iowa, it’s going to happen again.”

Connie Ryan, executive director of the Interfaith Alliance of Iowa Action Fund, said Iowa has a crisis on its hands and something needs to be done, but this bill is not the solution.

Ryan opposed the bill, saying that it impacts only a handful of districts, and schools should be able to figure out how to resolve this issue on their own as legislation telling them what to do is “not appropriate.” Ryan also said that the $50,000 for a grant is “really laughable.”

Hannah Hayes, a senior at Roosevelt High School who spoke on behalf of Students Demand Action, said the bill takes resources away from solutions such as mental health support, conflict resolution programs, and other preventative measures.

Hayes credited a study published by the U.S. Department of Justice Office of Justice Programs, which analyzed every intentional school shooting from 1980 to 2019 and found that there was no correlation between having an armed officer on school grounds and the rate of injuries.

Hayes said the bill doesn’t provide enough training or oversight for teachers.

“The more guns that are coming into the equation, the more volatility and the more risk there is of somebody getting hurt. And indeed, guns in schools have proved to be dangerous,” Hayes said.

The Iowa Department of Public Safety, the National Rifle Association, and the Iowa Association for Justice registered undecided on the bill signaling they had concerns about the bill.

Lisa Davis-Cook, with the Iowa Association for Justice, raised concerns about the qualified immunity clause in the bill that would give immunity from civil liability for injuries or other torts due to a teacher carrying a firearm. The clause would only allow suits regarding violations of clearly established legal and constitutional rights.

RELATED: JoCo legislators discuss gun reform at public forum

Davis-Cook said that type of immunity is typically reserved for law enforcement officers.

Nick Buggia, lobbyist for the National Rifle Association, said the NRA is concerned about privacy issues and adds additional licensing and training which “sets a bad precedent for those who want to be able to defend themselves while in school.”

Buggia said the state of Iowa has already determined that, with the proper requirements met, teachers can already carry in school.

“I don’t see a reason why this needs to be complicated any further than it already is,” Buggia said.

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About the Contributors
Roxy Ekberg, News Reporter
Roxy Ekberg is a first year at the University of Iowa. In the Honors Program, she is double majoring in journalism and political science with a minor in Spanish. Prior to her role as a politics reporter, she worked news reporter at the Daily Iowan and worked at her local newspaper The Wakefield Republican.
Ayrton Breckenridge, Managing Visuals Editor
Ayrton Breckenridge is the Managing Visuals Editor at The Daily Iowan. He is a senior at the University of Iowa majoring in journalism and cinema. This is his fourth year working for the DI.