Education

Midstate district becoming first in Georgia to let teachers carry guns

A grandmother has thoughts about guns in Laurens schools

Retired teacher and grandmother of Laurens County students has mixed feelings about the Board of Education's decision to allow some staff to carry weapons.
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Retired teacher and grandmother of Laurens County students has mixed feelings about the Board of Education's decision to allow some staff to carry weapons.

A midstate school district will presumably be Georgia's first to let some of its employees pack heat.

Earlier this month, the Laurens County school board approved a policy allowing select staff members to carry guns on school property, in vehicles and at school functions.

"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 said. "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."

A start date is still undetermined.

A 2014 Georgia law left it up to individual districts to decide if employees could carry guns on school property. Districts that opt to implement weapons policies must follow specific requirements for the approval of employees to participate; the types of weapons and ammunition allowed; firearms training; licensing; and securing weapons.

Laurens County is believed to be the only Georgia school district to go forward with such a policy, said Justin Pauly with the Georgia School Boards Association. The Dublin City school district, located in the same county, does not share this policy but has created a Safety Task Force with public safety officials, parents and district staff to ensure best practices for student safety, Director of Public Relations Jason Halcombe said.

In February, the Bleckley County school district began preliminary discussions on a policy allowing employees to carry firearms. Its District Safety Committee has met three times since then and plans to include a question about the topic in a survey for stakeholders, Superintendent Steve Smith said.

Kansas, South Dakota, Oklahoma, Texas and Wyoming are among at least eight states that allow teachers in K-12 schools to carry guns in some capacity, according to the Wall Street Journal. Florida, Alabama, Mississippi, Missouri, Maryland and Oklahoma introduced bills this year to make it simpler for school employees to have weapons on campus.

"Time is of the essence when it comes to a school crisis, particularly the threat of an active shooter on campus," Brigman said. "Our county's size often creates a great amount of time for law enforcement to respond to our outlying schools. It's essential that we have plans and protocols in place to develop somewhat of a first-responder process to extend beyond the school lock-down."

Laurens County now has armed school resource officers at some of its schools. Teachers and staff members who carry guns will do so on a voluntary basis and receive intensive training, he said.

According to policies from Laurens County and Georgia, approved employees must receive proper training on judgment, pistol shooting, marksmanship and relevant laws before they are authorized to carry weapons on school property. Guns can be concealed by school staff if they are carried in holsters, but they may not be kept in purses, briefcases or accessories that aren't being worn. They also can be stored in locked safes or lockboxes.

Implementation of Laurens' policy is still in the planning stages, and the district and the sheriff's department have not yet determined how many employees at each school will carry guns or when they will be allowed to start.

There's a misconception that the district will be handing out guns to teachers at the door, but that's not the case, school board chairman Kenny Stewart said. He urged community members to familiarize themselves with the policy and call the Board of Education if they have questions, concerns or suggestions.

Shaketha Marion, who has children in third and sixth grades at East Laurens Elementary, isn't pleased about the policy's passage. She is concerned about staff members being armed without proper experience handling dangerous situations.

"I think there are other ways they can provide security for the students and the staff," she said. "(Teachers) have a lot to deal with as it is. I really think they just need a security officer at each school and even metal detectors. To see that they didn’t even look at that as a possibility and just went straight for the guns, it shocked me."

Debra Shepard attended Laurens County schools, as did her two grown children. She said she would have supported such a policy when her kids were in school, and she'd like to see other security measures such as metal detectors added too.

“I agree with it, as long as they’re well-trained. I think it’s needed for their protection. I think it will just make people more aware," she said. "I don’t think the students need to know who’s carrying."

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