Marion County Police officers walk out a high school after a shooting there on April 20, 2018. In Georgia, Laurens County now plans to becomethe state’s first school district to authorize some teachers and others to carry guns on campus in hopes of preventing such incidents. (Photo by /Getty Images)
Photo: Gerardo Mora
Photo: Gerardo Mora

Georgia school district to allow teachers to carry guns

A school district near Macon is looking to become Georgia’s first one to let some teachers and other personnel bring guns to school.

At its April 12 meeting, Laurens County’s school board passed a resolution to “authorize certain personnel to possess or carry weapons on any property or in any building owned or leased by the district, at a school function, or on a bus or other transportation furnished by the district.”

Although other Georgia school systems, such as Floyd and Bleckley, raised the possibility after the Parkland, Fla., school shooting in February, metro Atlanta districts have rejected the idea.

Laurens appears to be the first in the state to allow firearms at school other than those carried by police.

State law allows it. “Local school districts have the jurisdiction to make this decision,” said Georgia Department of Education spokeswoman Meghan Frick. She said state school Superintendent Richard Woods feels “this is a decision best made at the local level, and that’s what has taken place in Laurens County.”

The Fannin County School System in North Georgia will consider next month a proposal the superintendent and sheriff endorse, similar to Laurens County’s.

“We are not arming all teachers in (Laurens County schools), nor will we have teachers or any other staff members ‘openly’ carrying firearms during the school day,” Laurens County school Superintendent Dan Brigman told the Macon Telegraph. “The processes to support this approved policy will be developed in a very careful and confidential manner in partnership with the Laurens County Sheriff’s Department.”

He said there will be training on judgment, pistol shooting, marksmanship and a review of current laws relating to the use of force for the defense of self or others, the ordinance states. There will also be an approved list of types and quantity of weapons and ammunition authorized.

Opinions are mixed on the national level, as well as right here in the Peach State.

President Donald Trump suggested shortly after a former student killed 17 students and staff at the Florida school that arming and training certain teachers could help deter such attacks or reduce casualties.

However, Randi Weingarten, president of the American Federation of Teachers, said, “Teachers don’t want to be armed, we want to teach.”

Shortly after Parkland, Jay Shell, a Floyd County businessman and school board member, suggested in a widely shared Facebook post that arming teachers may be an effective way to increase safety in schools. Although he hasn’t changed his mind, he said Floyd County schools is looking at other security measures first.

“We are in the middle of our budgeting process right now. We’re first looking to add resource officers if the money is there,” he said. “But if we don’t have to funds to do that, I’m all for looking at arming teachers.”

Verdaillia Turner, president of the Georgia Federation of Teachers agreed that school districts should find other means of keeping schools safe, such as cameras, increased security personnel or electronic locks.

“I’d like to know how much teacher input was involved in that decision,” she said. “I’d like for school boards to stop imposing policy when they don’t understand the dynamics of the job.”

The Professional Association of Georgia Educators, the state’s largest educator organization with 93,000 members, has diverse opinions about arming educators.

“PAGE is watching with interest discussions by local boards of education regarding arming educators. We encourage boards to collect feedback from all stakeholders in their communities, particularly teachers, before availing themselves of existing state law allowing educators to be armed in schools, and we hope Laurens County has done so,” said Margaret Ciccarelli, an attorney and director of legislative services for PAGE.

“We conducted polling several months ago which showed that educators prioritize and strongly support upgrading school safety infrastructure and stationing school resource officers at all schools. A majority of educators responding indicated they would not prefer to carry firearms in schools, though a plurality also indicated they would feel more secure if other employees were armed.”

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