In the weeks since the shootings at Sandy Hook Elementary School in Newtown, Conn., politicians and advocacy groups have issued recommendations for how schools can try to prevent the tragedy — which killed 26 students and school employees — from happening again.
A voice so far largely absent from those discussions in Fairfax and Northern Virginia: teachers.
One of Fairfax County's largest teachers unions is hoping to change that, launching Tuesday a security and schools survey asking its 4,265 members about the use of guns in schools, where the system could use extra security personnel, how safe schools are now and how to make them safer, among other topics.
"What I see more and more of is politicians posturing up and taking positions based upon whatever things they’re hearing," Fairfax County Federation of Teachers President Steve Greenburg told Patch. "The one thing I know they're not basing it upon is what their teachers are saying because they haven’t asked them."
"I appreciate everybody’s perspective, but I'd rather hear from those that are actually in the schools with our children," he added.
School safety — and gun control and arming teaches specifically — has dominated conversation at many of the town hall meetings area legislators are holding ahead of this year's Virginia General Assembly session, which starts Wednesday.
House of Delegates Speaker William Howell (R-28th) told WTOP he expects legislators to spend significant time discussing school security during this year's session.
Shortly after the December shootings, the Virginia-based National Rifle Association called for "armed security' around schools; Virginia Gov. Bob McDonnell said arming school personnel is "a reasonable discussion that ought to be had."
"If people were armed, not just a police officer but other officials who were trained and chose to have a weapon, certainly there would have been an opportunity to stop aggressors from coming into a school," he said during a radio program on WTOP.
Prince William County's Del. Robert G. Marshall (R-13th) has filed a bill requiring every school board in the state to "designate at least one qualified person for every school in the district who, upon application with the school board, may carry a concealed handgun on school property."
The bill does not limit school boards to a single designee, but all those appointed to carry guns — school division employees, volunteers, or retired law-enforcement officers — would have to be trained and certified by the Virginia Center for School Safety or the National Rifle Association, according to the bill.
Virginia educators from three state-level organizaions—the Virginia Association of Secondary School Principals (VASSP), the Virginia Association of Elementary School Principals (VAESP) and the Virginia Association of School Superintendents (VASS)—spoke out against the governor's suggestion, saying the issue is complex and deserves more "diverse solutions."
For one: providing more funding for assistant principals, counselors and support staff, who act as the "eyes and ears of the school" but whose salaries or positions have disappeared over the past several years.
Greenburg said it was important to establish a position locally in Fairfax County, to inform legislators as they craft or vote on bills, as well as the county's school system as it faces discussions on the issue over the next several months.
Fairfax, like other jurisdictions, stepped up security around schools in the week following the Connecticut shootings, but officials are expecting early recommendations from a newly formed state school safety task force charged with identifying weaknesses in school security at all levels and reviewing best practices to avoid tragedies such as Newtown and the Virginia Tech shooting in April 2007 — at the end of January.
McDonnell's office has said the recommendations will be finalized and implemented by the start of the 2013-2014 school year.
"I would certainly hope that our legislators, our local school officials ... would care deeply about what their educators' perspective is on this and I hope they would use this information to make the best decisions," Greenburg said.
FCFT's survey will close Jan. 16.