Warren delays vote on arming teachers

VINCENT – The Warren Local School District will wait another month before determining whether to take the step of allowing teachers to carry guns in school buildings as a security measure.

The board Monday night considered a resolution to ratify the practice. The meeting was attended by about 15 people, an unusually large crowd for a monthly board meeting. The district has considered and researched the possibility of letting staff members who volunteer for an intense training program carry concealed firearms for use in the event that someone with a gun gains entry to a school and starts shooting.

Superintendent Kyle Newton, noting that he would not offer an opinion on the measure, gave a lengthy presentation on how the board arrived at the proposal and the research that had gone into it. He said allowing armed teachers was only one part of the district’s overall student safety and security plan.

“We’re looking at safety from multiple perspectives, addressing everything from preventive to active to after. Lots of prevention, mental health, trauma informed classroom, stop the bleed (care for bleeding wounds, such as gunshots), safety drills,” he said. “We’ve partnered this year with Hopewell (Health Centers) and Life and Purpose … we’ve got it as part of professional development for teachers, and for people like me, who went to college 20 years ago; this (student mental health) is not something we talked about a lot, so we’re getting a lot of training with the help of the Washington County Behavioral Health Board, and we’re going to continue that; this is the first year of a three-year plan.”

Newton also noted physical security that will be part of the district’s new buildings, with construction of the elementary school already under way.

“We’ve really focused on hardening the buildings in the design,” he said.

Additionally, the board last month approved hiring of a full-time school resource officer starting in the fall. Sgt. Brad Holbert, a 15-year veteran with the Washington County Sheriff’s Office and a Warren graduate, attended the meeting Monday night.

Newton also introduced Joe Eaton, director of FASTER, a nonprofit that specializes in weapons response training for teachers. The organization, whose acronym stands for Faculty/Administrator Safety Training and Emergency Response, has trained thousands of school staff in hundreds of districts in use of firearms in emergencies such as shooters in schools. The group would be responsible for training any staff members who volunteer to carry guns.

Vincent resident Shelly Hess asked whether there was any provision for mental health assistance for those who decide to join the program. “It seems highly traumatic,” she said.

Eaton responded that it’s part of the training.

“We do, to some degree, it’s stress inoculation. In large part we start with helping them understand the situations we’ve seen, what to expect, how their bodies will react,” he said.

Kevin Welsh, president of the Warren Local Education Association, said the teachers’ union does not support arming of teachers and staff but acknowledges that school safety and security should be a top priority.

“We respect the board for everything you’re doing. This is very controversial, and ideally we would like to see an SRO in every building, but we realize that isn’t financially feasible for the district,” he said. “We don’t feel arming teachers is the best solution. What worries me is, you take a career educator wanting to do the right thing, I would hate to see him try to stop an intruder and get shot and killed. And you see all the time law enforcement officers make a justified shooting but getting fired and going to prison. The same thing could happen to a career educator. You never know, a lot of things could happen – the accidental shooting of a student, a teacher who has been trained but doesn’t react the way he’s supposed to. We just wanted to make sure the board understood our position.”

When the resolution came up for a vote, however, board vice president Debbie West and policy committee chair Debra Proctor both expressed reservations and asked for more time to consider it. Members Sidney Brackenridge and Bob Allen voted in favor, and president Bob Crum joined West and Proctor to vote against it, defeating the measure 3-2.

West moved to table the resolution, which passed 3-2, putting it on the June meeting agenda for reconsideration.

After the meeting, Proctor said she was torn when the vote came up, being concerned for safety of the students but also concerned for her faith. Proctor is a minister at two churches in the area, the Barlow United Methodist and the Living Faith church in Vincent.

“I have to think about this, what it means for me as a pastor to pass a resolution that could mean taking someone’s life,” she said.

In other business the board:

¯ Approved contracts with certified, administrative and classified personnel for the 2019-20 school year, and approved pupil activity program contract recommendations.

¯ Received an update on the district building project.

The next regular board meeting is scheduled for 6 p.m. June 17 in the administration offices on Sweetapple Drive in Vincent.