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Local school heads discuss armed teacher law

Posted on Tuesday, June 11, 2013 at 11:01 am

Tullahoma News
brian justice

Although the state is allowing it, school systems in the immediate area are not embracing arming their teachers as a means to counter violent acts like the December 2012 shooting at Sandy Hook Elementary School in Newtown, Conn., that left 26 dead, including 20 children.

The Tennessee Legislature recently passed the School Security Act of 2013, which goes into effect July 1.

Under the law, school systems may hire retired law enforcement officers who meet certain requirements, such as completing a 40-hour school security course. The description could apply to teachers in a school’s criminal justice program, a police officer turned teacher or a volunteer with police experience.

However, no administrators in the Tullahoma, Manchester and Coffee County school systems said they would want to move forward with allowing educators to be armed while on campus.

Dr. Prater Powell current Director of Manchester City Schools said he believes having armed teachers on his campuses could lead to an unsafe environment.

“The bottom line is I don’t think it would be good to arm our teachers,” he said, adding later: “I would be very concerned with our teachers and staff having weapons on campus.”

Powell said school resource officers are involved in the system’s safety program, and an effort is being made to ensure they have a presence that will serve as a deterrent to violent acts.

Arming teachers also could carry liability issues, he said.

“I think there’s some legal issues that need to be worked out,” Powell said.

He added that the city school system has been working diligently with the Manchester Police Department and Chief Mark Yother to increase officers’ presence on the system’s three campuses. He added the relationship appears to be working well to ensure safety.

Incoming Director Dr. Keith Brewer indirectly voiced similar views at an earlier school board meeting.

Dr. LaDonna McFall, Coffee County Schools Director, was terse with her approach.

“Coffee County Schools will continue to utilize the services of dedicated law enforcement to help safeguard our staff and students,” she said.

Tullahoma administrators chimed in with similar thoughts.

Pat Welsh, Tullahoma Board of Education chairman, said this week that he is against having teachers carrying firearms at the city system’s seven schools.

“I would not support arming our teachers at this time,” he said, adding that the school system has developed a strong collaboration with the Police Department to ensure the schools remain safe.

“The period immediately following the Newtown shooting was a period of great communication and cooperation between the school system and the Police Department, particularly between Dr. (Dan) Lawson (school system director) and (Police) Chief (Paul) Blackwell.”

Welsh said Blackwell has instructed officers who are on patrol to park in campus lots when filing reports, which has led to a regular law enforcement presence at the schools.

Lawson surmised the public probably doesn’t thoroughly understand what the statute requires.

He referred to Amendment No. 4 that says those authorized to carry firearms on school grounds would have to possess a handgun carry permit, have written permission from the system’s director and either be a law enforcement officer or have prior service in the field and be in compliance with all laws, rules and regulations of the Peace Officer Standards and Training Commission, which oversees law enforcement operations statewide.

He also said they must complete 40 hours in basic training in school policing.

Lawson said the training would have to be approved by the school system, and the person seeking authorization would have to provide their firearm and pay the ammunition and training costs.