Guns at school?


Jenna Liu

School board approves measure to allow district security directors to carry
On Monday, the Columbia School Board voted 5-2 to pass a policy that would allow two Columbia Public Schools (CPS) security personnel to carry guns in schools.
This measure was proposed in June 2013, but fell in a 4-3 vote. Since then, the text of the proposal underwent significant reworking to increase the specificity of the language. In November, the board revisited the policy and sent it through to a final vote scheduled for December.
CPS Superintendent Dr. Peter Stiepleman, who took on the job just this year after previous Superintendent Chris Belcher retired, said revisions to the proposal have assuaged any concerns he might have.
“I think the language has been strengthened,” Stiepleman said. “Two years ago when the measure fell, the language was a little vague. It would say ‘should’ attend training, ‘should’ receive additional counseling on mental health and drugs. So, no I don’t have reservations about it at all.”
Board member Darin Preis was one of the only two individuals to challenge the policy in the preliminary November vote. In an email interview, Preis said his concerns were not about the measure itself, but about the troubling precedent it set.
“The policy isn’t really my problem. It’s about as well thought out as it can be,” Preis said. “My concern is that this is a first step down a slippery slope. Allowing guns in the school makes us more calloused about solutions to violence.”
Preis and the other dissenting vote, James Whitt, had not discussed their positions prior to the November board meeting, but he said they seemed to be on the same page.
“He and I seem to agree that there are better ways to address violence than to introduce another lethal weapon into the mix,” Preis said.
Besides the four resource officers at the high schools who are already armed, the policy will give two additional employees of CPS the ability to carry a gun, Director of Security John White and Assistant Director of Security Ken Gregory. In contrast to Preis, Stiepleman reiterated his belief that arming White and Gregory is a necessary precaution.
“My feeling is that how is it that we put someone in a position to be the director of safety and security or the assistant director whose primary job is to keep teachers and students safe and not arm them with the appropriate tools,” Stiepleman said. “If we’re going to have those positions because we recognize that schools have changed, then we should make sure that those two individuals are appropriately prepared to do their jobs.”
Stiepleman highlighted an incident that occurred involving a gun threat at RBHS in October as an example of the possible danger the director and assistant director of security are routinely placed in.
“There was a scare, where we heard that a kid was going to bring a gun to school,” Stiepleman said. “And if you were to be in the position where I was, I was able to see that our safety and security directors were the ones guarding the doors. So why would put them in a position where they’re guarding the doors and not have to ability to adequately secure the building if it needed to be secured.”
On the issue of a potentially harmful precedent, sophomore Sam Speake said as long as qualified individuals are given the responsibility and take proper precautions, he is not worried.
“If the [director and assistant director] are hired in a way that will make sure they’re suitable for the job and they can only use the [guns] for good reasons to protect the students, I think it’s fine,” Speake said.
Preis said his main concern with the proposal was that it took focus away from what he believes is a more important goal of improving schools by alternate means.
“Threatening violence to prevent violence seems disingenuous,” Preis said. “I prefer to focus my attention on proactive strategies to make schools better, not reactive ideas that aren’t likely to make much difference.”
After the final vote to approve the policy, Preis stuck to what he had said before, maintaining that he doesn’t believe the policy will improve the situation of school violence.
“I just don’t think it is going to matter,” Preis said. “Frankly, I think it sends the wrong message that guns are a solution to some problems.”
Stiepleman was happy with the policy’s passage, saying that while he is firmly against teachers carrying guns in schools, the job White and Gregory undertake means different requirements. Though he can understand others concerns, he said the current situation of school violence today necessitates a measure like this.
“I wish the times were different,” Stiepleman said. “I wish we lived in a society where we didn’t even have to have these conversations, but the reality is that we do, and when we hire a director of safety and security–––when we hire an assistant director of safety and security, it’s because we have some concerns. We want to make sure kids are safe.”
By Jenna Liu