ATLANTA (AP) – Georgia’s second-largest school district passed a policy on Thursday that would allow some employees who are not certified police officers to carry guns into schools but bar teachers from those who can be armed.
The Cobb County school board’s 4-2 vote in suburban Atlanta split along party lines as opponents, including gun control activists, chanted, “Delay the vote!” and “Shame!”
Georgia schools could arm teachers and other staff under a state law passed in 2014. After a 2018 shooting in Parkland, Fla., a handful of Georgia’s 180 districts, all with much lower enrollments, had approved policies about arming nonofficials on campus. The move to the 106,000-student Cobb School District, one of the 25 largest in the country, is specifically in response to the school shooting in Uvalde, Texas last May that killed 19 students and two teachers.
Cobb County Superintendent Chris Ragsdale told board members ahead of the vote that the district currently has just 67 officers for its 114 schools and that competition to hire police officers is intense.
“If the board of directors gave me a blank check and said hire a school resource officer for every school in Cobb County, I couldn’t do that,” Ragsdale said.
The policy originally would have allowed teachers to be licensed to carry guns if they had “unique qualifications”, but Ragsdale removed that part of the proposal. Teachers were not allowed to carry guns.
“I’m not for arming teachers. However, I am in favor of exploring all options so that we can hire retired military and retired law enforcement officers,” Ragsdale said.
Ragsdale discussed hiring such people and paying them less than certified cops. It was unclear, however, whether the county requires anyone authorized to carry a weapon to be a full-time security officer, or whether the county may also authorize employees who have other primary duties. A school district spokesman did not respond to emails, a call and a text asking for comment.
The policy says people need to be trained, and Ragsdale promised they would go through roughly the same training as certified school resource officers. He said there will also be a psychological evaluation and that school district police chief Ron Storey will have the final say on the permits. Under state law, no employee should be penalized for refusing to carry a gun. Their names and any other records would be kept secret.
“On a need-to-know basis, anyone who needs to know who these people are will know who they are,” Ragsdale said.
Weapons would have to be hidden on the body or secured in a locked safe.
But the opponents could not be convinced. Cobb’s 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 haven’t seen any data or evidence that more gun carriers mean our children or employees are safer,” Howard said. He later attempted to postpone the vote to the board meeting at the end of August. School starts in Cobb County on August 1st.
Alisha Thomas Searcy, who defeated Howard and others to become the Democratic nominee for state schools superintendent in November, echoed Howard’s criticism. She said she opposes everyone but certified police officers being armed in schools.
“The last thing on my mind as a parent is more guns at my daughter’s school or any other school,” she said in a public statement. “I certainly agree that our school needs more caring adults, but not ones who carry guns and aren’t cops.”
Opponent Charles Cole said the policy was poorly drafted.
“I think it’s dangerous, hasty and unfairly overt. “Let’s get more guns into the schools and we might add some details later,” isn’t the way we should be doing it,” said Cole, adding, “Our kids deserve more forethought.”
These opponents began chanting, “Delay the vote!” and prompted a board break. When the board returned, the four Republicans rejected Howard’s proposed delay and pushed through the measure, although chanting continued.
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