Months of nationwide debate about guns in schools came home to Jessamine County earlier this month when a school-board member said she wanted to explore the possibility of letting employees bring guns to school.
Vice chairperson Amy Day was cited as “leading the way” on allowing employees to carry guns in a blog post from Nicholasville’s David Adams. Adams spoke to the school board about allowing guns in schools during the public-comment portion of a January meeting, a month and a half after the school shooting in Newtown, Conn., that left 20 students and six staff members dead.
Day said she is in favor of letting schools decide whether to let employees bear arms.
“Whatever level of preparedness that they’re wanting, I’m willing to support that, whether it be allowing guns for staff, certain teachers, one teacher — whatever that is, I’m for that,” she said. “If they don’t want that, I’m in support of that as well, but I don’t want that not to be an option for our schools.”
Kentucky law prohibits possession of a weapon on school property but contains several exceptions, including “any other persons ... who have been authorized to carry a firearm by the board of education ...” State Rep. Bob Damron, D-Nicholasville, said that provision allows local school boards to let employees have guns on school property.
“When we were reviewing school-safety provisions during the last session, one of the discussion points somebody raised was getting authorization for school boards to allow the principal or a school security officer, even a teacher, to be able to be armed if the school so designated,” Damron said. “They said, ‘Oh, the statute already allows for that; we don’t have to do anything.’”
Damron said he does not know of any school districts in Kentucky that currently allow employees to carry firearms.
Nicholasville police officers stationed at the middle and high schools in the school-resource-officer program carry guns, but public firearms are forbidden in Jessamine County schools, with signs posted on doors alerting the public that unlawful possession of a weapon is a felony.
Superintendent Lu Young said she was wary of giving teachers and administrators additional responsibilities past their core role of education.
“We are a system that is designed and intended to educate the children,” she said. “I think there are other systems that are designed to keep the public safe — that’s what I think law enforcement is supposed to do. I think it’s absolutely our responsibility to collaborate and coordinate with local law enforcement, but at some point, we can’t be all of these things to all of the people, all of the time.
“When we connect our core business of teaching and learning with theirs of public safety, then I think we have something powerful. But for us to try to be responsible for public safety would be like expecting them to be responsible for educating children, and it’s just not in sync with our core values and core mission.”
Sgt. Scott Harvey of the Nicholasville Police Department said arming teachers is not “the best idea.” He said it could complicate minor altercations between students, adding to the situation a gun that has to be secured.
Harvey also said a teacher who leaves the classroom to confront a subject is leaving students unsecured. He said the best approach is for teachers to secure students if possible and evacuate students if securing them is impossible.
“I think if our teachers come out of their classrooms, then their classroom is unsecured,” Harvey said. “I think that the best way we can combat this issue is to make our classrooms more difficult to get into. I think doors should be locked from the hallway; I think windows on the doors should be small enough to where I can’t reach through and open the door; and I think that in an active-shooter situation that the teachers should be locking their classroom doors or shutting their classroom doors because they’re already locked and buying as much time as they can.”
John Branscum, who served with the NPD for 26 years and is now the school district’s safety and security coordinator, said just getting employees the necessary training would be an impossibility.
“I have seen the burden educators face just to keep up with the education standards they have to meet; there is no way they are going to have the time required to meet the safety and training guidelines for carrying a weapon on school grounds,” Branscum said. “People want to use the carry-concealed training option to meet these standards, and that doesn't even come close to the level of training this would require.”
Day said she is hoping to start a discussion among schools, administration and local authorities aimed at meeting the safety needs of each individual school.
“Because every day seems like every other day and there’s nothing going on, we get lax and we relax ourselves instead of being more keen to the things around us, and I think we just get complacent, and that is what will get us,” she said. “We’ve just got to have a sense of urgency to keep our kids safe in whatever our schools deem is the route they want to go.”
Young said she is currently working with her staff, Nicholasville police and county attorney Brian Goettl to develop a set of best practices around school safety for the board’s consideration. She said there was no “easy answer” to school safety and that she hoped to give the board a “thoughtful, comprehensive set of recommendations.”
While Harvey acknowledged the terror felt nationwide from the Newtown shooting, he said children are still safer in schools than they are at home and that cooler heads must prevail when considering the proper response.
“I just think there’s a lot of things people aren’t thinking about,” he said. “Knee-jerk reactions are very rarely the right reactions ... We can’t run in a panic situation and make sweeping changes for something that may never happen.”