Are America’s public schools really armed and ready for…well…something big, after the government has provided quite a few of them with military-type weaponry?
As schools around the nation settle into their fall schedules — and as school systems try to figure out how to handle the flood of illegal immigrant children, many of whom don’t speak English — another pressing issue has arisen…what to do with high-powered rifles, grenade launchers and armored vehicles provided to the schools by the Department of Defense.
That’s right, some public schools, setting up their own SWAT-like security forces, have been equipped with government surplus military gear.
When the racially charged violence gripped Ferguson, Missouri, following the police shooting of Michael Brown, images of cops brandishing military-style rifles and using armored vehicles to control the volatile crowds captured the nation’s attention. The Senate Homeland Security and Governmental Affairs Committee recently held a hearing to debate the wisdom of the federal program that has long handed over free military equipment to local police and sheriff’s departments.
A number of civil rights and civil liberty groups have decried the so-called “militarization” of local law enforcement agencies. Now their attention turns to the militarization of America’s public schools.
As the Wall Street Journal reports, a federal program that has been arming beefed-up security forces at local schools is running into controversy.
In the wake of school shootings in Newtown, Conn., and elsewhere, some school security departments developed SWAT teams, added weapons and called on the federal government to help supply gear. But now, the program is facing renewed scrutiny from both outside observers and schools using it.
The Journal article goes on to identify some of the school districts that have used the federal program to acquire the surplus military equipment:
The Los Angeles Unified School District stocked up on grenade launchers, M16 rifles and even a multi-ton armored vehicle from the program.
In July, the district received a massive MRAP armored vehicle… it could be useful for evacuations and to save lives in a “sustained incident.”
At the Granite School District in Salt Lake County, Utah, spokesman Ben Horsley said the security department carefully thought out its request for a handful of M16 rifles. “It would be irresponsible to send our officers into an active shooter situation with just a handgun,” he said.
As fresh questions arise about the appropriateness of arming public schools — some of which appear unprepared to operate the equipment — there is push-back from groups concerned about turning schools into what could be characterized as semi-armed camps.
The NAACP Legal Defense and Education Fund and Texas Appleseed, two civil-rights advocates, wrote an open letter signed by nearly two dozen other groups calling on an end to the program.
“Adding the presence of military-grade weapons to school climates that have become increasingly hostile due to their overreliance on police to handle routine student discipline can only exacerbate existing tensions,” the letter said. “We write to urge you to end the Department of Defense 1033 Program’s transfer of military weapons to local school districts.”