Opening the Snake Pit: Arming Teachers in the War Against School Violence and the Government-Created Risk Doctrine
Posted: 13 Jun 2016 Last revised: 22 Jun 2016
Date Written: November 1, 2015
In the aftermath of the horrific school shooting at Sandy Hook Elementary School in Newtown, Connecticut, parents, students, and school administrators began to fear the unthinkable-that a violent, ruthless criminal could invade their school campuses and randomly target innocent youth. Even though statistics show that violent crime in elementary and secondary schools is on the decline, trepidation and anxiety on school campuses across the country is at an all-time high.
In response to this perceived threat, in 2013, lawmakers in over thirty states proposed bills that, if passed, would authorize school officials to carry weapons on their persons during the school day. Currently, at least eleven states have adopted this “armed-teachers” approach in fighting the war against school violence.
This Article explores the potential § 1983 liability that the armed-teachers approach could create. Historically, § 1983 shields public schools from liability for the injuries resulting from the unforeseeable, violent acts of third parties. But when schools themselves invite the risk onto campus, they become vulnerable, throwing schoolchildren into the “snake pit” of danger and exposing themselves to liability under the government-created risk doctrine. Walking the reader through the elements of a state-created danger claim brought by a plaintiff whose injury or death was proximately caused by the armed-teachers approach, this Article examines the inherent risk involved in bringing firearms into schools, especially when guarded by inadequately trained, or in some cases untrained, teachers.
Furthermore, where school districts adopt armed-teachers policies and fail to adequately train or supervise those teachers serving as quasi-security guards pursuant to their policy, they expose themselves to Monell liability. Most districts that have adopted this approach have done so for fiscal reasons, but because the cost of hiring security is lower than the cost of the risk of injury and resultant damages incurred by the school, the money-saving justification is foolhardy and, at best, illogical.
Finally, this Article cautions that schools must not lose sight of the appropriate role and function of our schoolteachers. With education reform and teacher effectiveness at the crux of a national debate, schools should be wary of muddying the role of our educators. Instead, schools should allow teachers to focus on educating and leave the patrol-work to the properly trained experts.
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