Armed security officers are becoming more prevalent in U.S. schools, says a federal study released Thursday amid a heated debate over whether teachers and other school officials should carry guns, the Associated Press reports. Armed officers were present at least once a week in 43 percent of all public schools during the 2015-16 school year, compared with 31 percent of schools a decade before, according to data from a survey by the National Center for Education Statistics. Last month’s mass shooting at a Florida high school put renewed focus on the role of armed school security guards, after a video showed that a sheriff’s deputy approached but did not enter the building where the attack was taking place. The study came out a day after Education Secretary Betsy DeVos started a federal school safety panel. DeVos says schools should have the option to arm teachers.
The percentage of schools with a security guard, a school resource officer or other sworn law enforcement officer on campus at least once a week has gone up from 42 percent in 2005-06 to 57 percent a decade later. While security at schools of all grade levels increased, the shift is clearer among elementary schools, where the share with security staff has gone from 26 percent to 45 percent in the same time period. Experts are divided on whether putting such officers on school campuses will make the schools safer or frighten children and lead to more arrests. “There needs to be at least one in every school in the country,” said Mo Canady of the National Association of School Resource Officers. “Every school could benefit from one.” Ron Astor, an education professor at University of Southern California who specializes in school behavior, says that putting weapons in schools will make them akin to prisons, intimidate children and hurt their studies.