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Warren to vote on resolution to arm teachers

With the end of the school year only a month away and 2018 having set a record for shooting incidents on school property in the U.S., the school districts of Washington County are considering their responses to the threat.

The Sandy Hook Promise group stated in December that 94 shooting incidents occurred at schools in 2018, ranging in severity from a gun being discharged and a bullet striking a building to the mass deaths that occurred at Marjorie Stoneman Douglas School in Parkland, Fla., and Santa Fe High School in Texas. The Naval Postgraduate School of the Center for Homeland Defense and Security tracks such incidents, which according to its data totaled 97 in 2018. As of April 24, the data show 23 such incidents have taken place in 2019.

For 2018, the number of incidents was more than double that of any year since 1970, with the exception of 2006 when 59 occurred.

Although the data paints a horrific picture, the likelihood of a child being the victim of a school shooting is remote. Nonetheless, the random and unpredictable nature of such events weighs heavily on the minds of school administrators and parents.

Warren Local Schools Superintendent Kyle Newton said Wednesday that the board will be presented at its monthly meeting in May with a proposed resolution that would start the process of allowing teachers to carry concealed firearms at school. Newton noted that district policy does not need to be changed to allow the process, but the board will have to pass the resolution to get it started.

“It’s a long process with a lot of training involved,” he said. “If the resolution is approved, that means the board wants to go ahead with it.”

If teachers come forward for training, he said, they could be prepared by the time school resumes in the fall. It could be a continuing process, he said, with teachers trained and certified throughout the year.

Warren’s concerns mirror those of other rural districts, he said, with the biggest factor being the distance of the school buildings from centers of law enforcement and the potential response time that might be involved after reports of an active shooter.

“That’s probably the largest thing, the distance from Marietta,” he said. “We don’t have local police, and when we turn to the sheriff’s office and ask them about this, they say that this is a great alternative as a first response. You have to do something within the first five minutes.”

Newton said parents for the most part are comfortable with the idea of teachers bearing firearms, in part because guns, in connection with hunting and shooting sports, are part of the Appalachian culture. Even those who feel misgivings, he said, understand that the teachers will be trained and resorting to the use of weapons will be narrowly confined to very specific situations.

“We have training for that, this is only for an active event,” he said. “This is not for de-escalating situations like a domestic issue or a mental health problem.”

The Warren Board of Education meets at 6 p.m. May 20 at the district office.

Frontier Local Schools, another district at a 30-minute remove from Marietta, has allowed concealed carry for trained school staff since December 2016, having reached many of the same conclusions Warren is now considering.

Fort Frye Local Schools is still mulling the possibility of allowing armed teachers but has made no policy decision on it.

Fort Frye superintendent Stephanie Starcher said the board there has been extensively briefed by experts on numerous safety and security issues, including arming teachers.

“The district has looked at and researched those policies, but no formal action on that aspect has been taken by the board,” she said. “We’ve read about best practices, experts have spoken to our board. They have asked me to provide research and information on school safety as a whole, and that’s just one measure that’s out there.”

Wolf Creek Local Schools Superintendent Doug Baldwin said the district does not have a policy allowing concealed carry within its buildings.

The policy at the Washington County Career Center, which is within a few minutes of Marietta, does not support concealed carry for staff, superintendent Dennis Blatt said.

Marietta City Schools does not face the same response-time problem as rural schools, and the district is considering a levy proposal for voters that would replace its aging buildings, which also would address many of its security concerns.

“We haven’t made any changes to policies, we’re actually focused on other things now,” superintendent Will Hampton said. The district is in the process of replacing security cameras, examining a new card-swipe door security system and coating interior and exterior glass with a film that prevents panes from shattering when hit with a bullet or other projectile.

“We’re not really looking to make any changes this year. We’ve researched this and talked with people over the past two years. If we can build the facilities we need, these issues become less important,” Hampton said.

The Times was unable to contact the superintendent of Belpre City Schools. Last year, Tony Dunn, who has since retired, stated that the district was primarily focused on prevention and had a strong relationship with the Belpre Police Department.

Policies on armed teachers:

•Marietta City Schools: No policy to allow.

•Frontier Local Schools: Permitted since December 2016.

•Warren Local Schools: Board to consider resolution at May meeting.

•Fort Frye Local Schools: No policy to allow.

•Belpre City Schools: (No response).

•Wolf Creek Local Schools: No policy to allow.

•Washington County Career Center: No policy to allow.

Source: Times research

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