On the heels of a lethal gun attack that claimed the lives of 17 at a school in Parkland, Fla., President Donald Trump suggested this week that arming teachers could stop similar events from unfolding in the future. Although the idea has proved to be contentious around the country, one Highland County school district has been authorizing trained staff members to conceal firearms during school hours for the past two years.
As reported by The Times-Gazette, the Bright Local Board of Education in 2016 voted unanimously in support of a policy allowing trained staff members to conceal handguns in school on a volunteer basis.
Superintendent Ted Downing told The Times-Gazette on Friday that staff members at Whiteoak Jr./Sr. High School in Mowrystown and Bright Elementary School volunteer to carry the firearms, obtain their own handguns and ammunition, and regularly attend rigorous training courses.
“Our staff get paid nothing to do this,” Downing said. “We were selective in who we chose, and we reserved the right to revoke them.”
In order to carry a firearm in school, staff members must have a concealed carry permit, complete a three-day class or about 30 hours of training with the Tactical Defense Institute, and hit 93 percent or more of their targets. Additionally, staff members must fire 50 rounds per month to remain on the list.
Downing said staff members have also been trained to respond appropriately in a variety of scenarios.
Downing said the school district had other issues in mind than threats when the decision was made — mainly, lack of funds for a school resource officer and the distance between Mowrystown and local law enforcement agencies.
“We didn’t do this because there were issues,” Downing said. “There were no threats. We did this to be proactive so if something did come our way, we would be prepared.”
Downing said the school district didn’t have the extra $25,000 to $30,000 per year to pay for a school resource officer. Even if it did, the superintendent said he would still be in favor of having an armed staff.
“Financially, it wasn’t feasible,” Downing said. “The other thing is, we’re 20 minutes from the nearest law enforcement on duty during the day. If something were to happen, we’re a long ways away from anybody… and these things are over within a few minutes.”
Downing declined to say how many staff members carry on any given day, but said “several” staff members carry weapons in both the high school and elementary school.
As for the community’s response, “It’s been nothing but positive,” Downing said.
“But, we did it right. We talked to the community, we talked to organizations and we held meetings,” he said. “I think our kids feel safer.”
While the policy has been met with a seemingly positive response here, educators, parents and school security officers around the country have grappled with the idea.
The president of the 1.7 million-member American Federation of Teachers, Randi Weingarten, called arming teachers a horrible idea, and said an educator’s handgun would be no match for the assault-style weapons often wielded by attackers.
“The solution is to ban these military weapons from people who shouldn’t have them,” Weingarten said.
The National Association of School Resource Officers, which provides training to school-based law enforcement officers, said it opposes arming teachers.
“Anyone who hasn’t received the extensive training provided to law enforcement officers will likely be mentally unprepared to take a life, especially the life of a student assailant,” it said in a statement Thursday.
Wayne LaPierre, vice president and CEO of the National Rifle Association, said Thursday that reactions like Weingarten’s are expected after mass shootings.
“The whole idea from some of our opponents that armed security makes us less safe is completely ridiculous,” he told a conference of conservatives in Washington.
Legislative discussions have also taken place in Kentucky, Colorado, North Carolina and Alabama in recent days. In Wisconsin, the attorney general said he’s open to the idea.
“Our students do not need to be sitting ducks. Our teachers do not need to be defending themselves with a No. 2 pencil,” Alabama state Rep. Will Ainsworth, a Republican, said in proposing a bill days after the shooting in Florida.
In contrast, a California law that took effect Jan. 1 halted the ability of school districts to allow non-security employees to carry guns on campus.
For Bright Local, Downing said, it all comes down to the crucial first five minutes of a violent incident — and the following 15 minutes more it may take for law enforcement to arrive.
“When you’re sitting waiting for 20 minutes, a lot of bad things can happen,” he said.
Meanwhile, in addition to lockdowns in other area schools this week, Hillsboro High School and Middle School were placed on a precautionary lockdown Friday afternoon for the second time in a month after a threatening message was discovered written in a restroom, according to a posting on the school’s website.
In early February, the school was placed on lockdown after a similar message was found scrawled on the women’s bathroom wall in the high school.
Hillsboro City Schools Superintendent Tim Davis could not be reached for comment Friday.
As for lockdowns at Whiteoak, Downing said the last one, which occurred last year, amounted only to a brief check of the premises following an indirect social media threat. All the students had left for the day, Downing said.
Other than that, the superintendent said he couldn’t recall the last time the school was placed on lockdown.
Downing said he doesn’t believe the policy will completely prevent violent episodes in school. But, he said, in the event of an attack, at least staff will be prepared.
“Can anybody ever stop anything from happening? The answer is no,” Downing said. “But we can minimize it.”
The Associated Press contributed to this report. Reach David Wright at 937-402-2570, or on Twitter @DavidWrighter.