By JEFF AMY – Associated Press
ATLANTA (AP) — Georgia’s second-largest school district on Thursday approved a policy allowing certain employees who are not certified police officers to carry weapons in schools, but excluded teachers from those who may be armed.
The 4-2 school board vote in suburban Atlanta’s Cobb County split along partisan lines as opponents, including gun control activists, shouted ‘Delay the vote !” and “Shame!”
Georgia schools were able to arm teachers and other staff under a state law passed in 2014. After a 2018 school shooting in Parkland, Florida, a handful of the 180 districts in Georgia, all with much lower enrollments, had approved policies to arm non-commissioned officers. on the campus. The move to the Cobb school district, which has 106,000 students, one of the 25 largest in the nation, is explicitly a response to the school shooting in Uvalde, Texas, which killed 19 students and two teachers in last May.
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Cobb County Superintendent Chris Ragsdale told council members ahead of the vote that the district currently has only 67 officers for its 114 schools and competition to hire police officers is intense.
“If the board gave me a blank check and told me to hire a school resource officer for every school in Cobb County, I couldn’t do it,” Ragsdale said.
The policy would have originally allowed teachers to be allowed to carry arms if they had “unique qualifications”, but Ragsdale removed that part of the proposal. Teachers would not be allowed to carry weapons.
“I am not in favor of arming teachers. However, I am in favor of exploring all options so that we can hire retired military, retired law enforcement,” Ragsdale said.
Ragsdale discussed hiring such people and paying them less than certified police officers. But it’s unclear whether the district intends anyone authorized to carry a firearm to be a full-time security employee, or whether the district could also authorize employees who primarily have other duties. A school district spokesperson did not respond to emails, a phone call and a text message seeking comment.
The policy says people should be trained, and Ragsdale promised they would go through much the same training as certified school resource officers. He said there would also be a psychological evaluation and that school district police chief Ron Storey would have the final say on approvals. Under state law, no employee can be penalized for refusing to carry a firearm. Their names and all other records would be kept secret.
“Based on the need to know, anyone who needs to know who these people are will know who they are,” Ragsdale said.
Firearms should be concealed on the body or secured in a locked safe.
But opponents were not convinced. The Cobb school board is sharply divided, with four white Republicans and three black Democrats. One of those Democrats, Jaha Howard, said there was no evidence the plan would work.
“I have yet to see any data or evidence that more professionals carrying guns means our children or staff will be safer,” Howard said. Later, he tried to postpone the vote until the council meeting at the end of August. School starts in Cobb County on August 1.
Alisha Thomas Searcy, who beat Howard and others to become the Democratic nominee for state superintendent of schools in November, echoed Howard’s criticism. She said she opposed anyone but certified police being armed in schools.
“As a parent, the last thing I want to think about is more guns at my daughter’s school or any other type of school,” she said during a public comment period. “I certainly agree that there is a need for more caring adults in our school, but not ones who carry guns and are not police officers.”
Opponent Charles Cole said the policy was poorly drafted.
“I think it’s dangerous, reckless and widely, wrongly, open. “Let’s get more guns in schools and we might add some details later” is not the way we should be operating,” Cole said, adding that “our kids deserve more foresight.”
These opponents began chanting “Delay the vote!” and caused a board suspension. When the council returned, the four Republicans rejected Howard’s proposed delay and pushed the measure even as the chanting continued.
An earlier version of this story incorrectly stated that Georgia had passed a law allowing non-commissioned officers to be armed in schools. It was in 2014.
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