The Wamego board of education is expected to consider a controversial topic — whether to allow teachers and faculty to carry concealed weapons — at its meeting next week.
“I’m all for anything we can do to make our schools safer; my board is currently looking at how to make it safe,” said USD 320 Supt. Denise O’Dea.
The topic, raised by USD 320 school board president Philip Wethington at the board’s Feb. 11 meeting, would change existing USD 320 policy prohibiting the carrying of guns or weapons of any kind within its school buildings.
“We had a number of policies and procedures similar to Connecticut’s’,” said Wethington, referring to the mass shooting of 26 students and teachers at Sandy Hook Elementary School late last year. “We were under the impression those (policies and procedures) made our school safer, and based on what happened at (the Connecticut) school we might have been under a false impression.”
Wethington believes having an unknown number of guns on school property could deter a potential assailant.
“It is better than having a single teacher designated as ‘the person with the gun,’” he said. “If you have an unfortunate incident, that teacher would be the person’s first target.”
Since the shooting in Connecticut, other schools across the nation have considered adding policies such as concealed carry to their safety plans. Others have thrown around the idea of purchasing a gun to keep locked up within the building.
The Kansas Legislature is considering a change in existing state prohibitions against concealed carry in school buildings. But Wethington believes such a policy change could be implemented even without a change in the law because the state has deferred decisions of this type to the individual school boards and businesses.
Wethington said Emporia has recently added extra guards to beef up security, and talked about arming those guards.
He thinks this is the right time to strongly consider the gun policy.
“The shooting happened in December but I didn’t want to bring up the policy right away and get an emotional response,” he said. “I wanted the board to think about it logically and calmly.”
Wethington had brought up the same idea several years earlier but was turned down by board members. Since then, two new members have joined the board.
“If we had a vote tomorrow I don’t know how the vote would go, I couldn’t tell from our last meeting,” Wethington said. He added that “I’m not afraid to force my opinion on something.”
Many factors go into obtaining a concealed carry permit in Kansas. The individual must be 21-years-old, must have passed a background check, must have undergone an eight-hour safety and training course, must be a U.S. citizen and a resident of Kansas for at least six months prior to filing the application, cannot have a felony conviction or diversion, cannot have any restraining order, and cannot within the last five years have been convicted of drug possession, domestic violence or carrying a gun without licensing.
If the policy passes, what that means will vary greatly depending on what it is challenged by and will likely evolve over time.
“It comes down to the type of situation and the individual and how he or she would handle the situation when it presents itself,” Wethington said. “What happened in Connecticut was there were people who had put themselves between the shooter and the children, trying to shield them – if there had been concealed carry holders – they would have acted accordingly.”
The BOE does not have to consult with teachers or parents before making a decision because they’re not electing to make the policy a requirement, although they would like some feedback on the issue.
“Many of our kids live in rural areas and have grown up around guns,” O’Dea said. “I don’t know how this would be any different from being in Walmart with people who are carrying a concealed weapon.”
Wethington doesn’t suspect they would make it known to their elementary school students and doesn’t anticipate middle or high school aged students having any issues with the policy change.
“They might ask a teacher if they were a holder because at that age they’re willing to ask questions that others wouldn’t, but I don’t think it would bother them,” he said.
Even if the school board chooses against enacting a concealed carry policy for the 2013-14 school year, a new crisis policy is being implemented.
“The new policy will include an evolved local law enforcement plan and will not be a public document,” O’Dea said.
“I haven’t thought of it has revolutionary in our area,” he said. “I think we will see a lot more of this in Kansas since we are a conservative state; first and foremost this is about our students and doing whatever we think we need to, to protect them.”