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Teachers with guns?

Local school officials wary of new law allowing systems to arm employees

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POSTED: July 19, 2014 6:00 a.m.

Part of a broad new Georgia gun law that took effect July 1 allows school boards to adopt policies that will authorize school personnel to carry guns at school, on buses and at school functions.
But few local systems seem ready to start arming teachers, and Bryan County Schools is no exception.
“At this time, the Bryan County Board of Education has not discussed arming teachers or any other personnel in the system,” said the system’s superintendent, Dr. Paul Brooksher.
“The (school board) believes that student safety is paramount. As you might recall, the board approved spending $150,000 last school year to retrofit many of our schools with safety vestibules,” Brooksher said, noting the upgraded security “requires any approved visitor to be acknowledged and released to go into the main parts of our school buildings.”
The system, with a projected enrollment of more than 8,000 students this year at nine campuses, teams with local law enforcement to provide school resource officers on both ends of the county through partnerships with both the Bryan County Sheriff’s Department and Richmond Hill Police Department.
“In addition to our student resource officer program, we have a great working relationship with the Pembroke Police Department and other emergency officials,” Brooksher said.
Though the new state law would require personnel to be licensed to carry and undergo training, and the policy would have to state what guns could be carried, Brooksher said school districts should approach consideration of any such measure with care.
“As school superintendent, I believe the concept of allowing school officials to carry weapons on school grounds would need to be approached with caution and a clear understanding of what is best for all students, faculty and staff,” he said.
Superintendents in Evans and Bulloch County voiced similar concerns about arming employees.
“I think there are a lot of questions to be answered before a lot of school systems, including us, are going to be comfortable stepping forward and doing that,” said Bulloch County Schools Superintendent Charles Wilson, who oversees a system of approximately 10,000 students.
Like Bryan County, Bulloch’s system relies on local law enforcement.
One of the 15 Bulloch County public schools has a law enforcement officer on campus each day. The school resource officer at Statesboro High School is a Statesboro Police Department officer, armed and assigned to the school full-time during school hours.
“We’re very fortunate to have that relationship, you know,” Wilson said. “That’s in their scope of business, their scope of responsibility.”
Past school system administrations talked about working with the Bulloch County Sheriff’s Office for resource officers elsewhere in the county, but there is no agreement in place.
“We’re very fortunate, though, to have both Brooklet P.D. and the sheriff’s department nearby, down there at Southeast Bulloch High School,” Wilson said. “We have the Portal Police Department right there. So again, those relationships and the response time are something we’re comfortable with.”
At this point, he and the Board of Education have no plans to arm any teachers or administrators. But Wilson added that he didn’t mean the idea couldn’t be subject to further consideration.
“At the same time, there are a lot of other things that we have to focus on, and when you have the relationship that we have with law enforcement in this community, you have to look at what’s the best solution, and my opinion at this point is, the best solution is cooperation with our law enforcement in trained, professional agencies,” Wilson said.
Evans County School Superintendent Dr. Joy Collins sounded a similar note.
She and the Evans County Board of Education have not discussed a policy for arming school personnel. Their school system is very compact, with about 1,850 students on three campuses, all in the city limits of Claxton.
“I think it is probably a law for a school system that doesn’t have a law enforcement agency that can be there within two minutes,” Collins said. “And you can get all the training in the world with a gun, but dealing with other people who have guns is a different story.”
Dealing with someone who is armed and under the influence of drugs or mentally unbalanced, she observed, is part of the training police officers and sheriffs’ deputies receive. She thinks it would be difficult to provide sufficient training for school personnel.
None of the Evans County Schools has a resource officer, but the law enforcement agencies frequently patrol the schools, Collins said. She has talked to Claxton Police Chief Edward Oglesbee about getting officers into the schools more often next school year.
Claxton High School is half a mile from the Claxton Police Department and the Evans County Sheriff’s Department. The elementary and middle school are about one mile from both agencies, and according to Collins, a two-minute response time has been proven repeatedly.
But one superintendent isn’t ready to entirely dismiss the idea of arming school personnel, though, like Brooksher, he said school leaders have to be careful.
    “I just think we have to be cautious in the way we address this,” Effingham County Schools Superintendent Dr. Randy Shearouse said. “At some schools, there could be personnel that would assist and be helpful. At some schools, it may be more difficult to find the right person to be armed.”
With 11,500 students, Effingham has 14 campuses, counting its career academy, in a sprawling county. The Effingham County Board of Education already pays for a full-time police presence in its three middle schools and two high schools.
Each of these five schools has a resource officer, funded by the board but provided by the Effingham County Sheriff’s Office. These deputies are armed, Shearouse said.
But members of the school board expressed interest in the legislation allowing armed school personnel, discussing it briefly with Shearouse when it was introduced, he said.
Some educators, he notes, have military or law enforcement experience.
“In some cases, it could be the right fit, where in other cases you may not have someone that feels comfortable having a weapon, and it always concerns me if you have a weapon in a school. What if it fell into the wrong hands, you know?” Shearouse said. “There are concerns you have to think about, the training, the responsibility.”
The school provision of House Bill 60 states that the gun must be kept on the person authorized to carry it and not left anywhere it could be easily accessible to students. Except for resource officers, no school employee can be required to carry a gun, and school districts are not required to introduce the practice.
“Such decision shall rest with each individual local board of education,” the law states. 

Al Hackle is a reporter for the Statesboro Herald.

 

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