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Tenn. schools slow to embrace armed teachers

Jun 3, 2013 by

The School Security Act, which takes effect July 1, allows school systems to hire retired law enforcement officers.

NASHVILLE — The Middle Tennessee school systems with their own resource officers aren’t showing any interest in a new Tennessee law allowing teachers with police training to carry guns, but the small districts touted as beneficiaries of the plan aren’t rushing into action either.

Education officials from all over the state are saying they don’t anticipate using the law, and many are adamant that the proposal won’t come up in their community.

“We don’t want any guns in here,” said Michael Martin, director of the small Van Buren County, Tenn., school system. “I know most of the upper Cumberland directors, and I don’t see us arming teachers.”

STORY: Tenn. gun law to move forward despite school massacre

The Tennessee School Boards Association also knows of no school system planning to use the new School Security Act of 2013, but believes conversations may heat up after July 1 when the law takes effect.

“I would anticipate more of those conversations just prior to school starting back,” said association spokesman Lee Harrell.

Metro Nashville Schools Director Jesse Register “has made it pretty clear that is not going to happen here,” system spokesman Joe Bass said Thursday.

Register voiced firm opposition to the idea several times when it first surfaced shortly after the December 2012 shooting at Sandy Hook Elementary School in Connecticut that killed 26 people — 20 of them children.

Tennessee legislators began discussing the idea of arming teachers or other school employees almost immediately after going into session in January. Filed as an alternative to letting any teachers with handgun carry permits bring their weapons onto campus, the measure passed in the state House of Representatives 82-15 and was approved 27-6 in the Senate. Gov. Bill Haslam signed it into law in May.

Under the law, school systems may hire retired law enforcement officers after they 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.

State Sen. Frank Niceley, one of the bill’s chief sponsors, said he was not concerned about the slow pace of adoption. He said the bill’s primary purpose was to give small school districts a cheaper alternative to school resource officers, regular-duty police officers assigned to schools.

“I’m not convinced everybody knows about it yet,” said Niceley, a Republican from Strawberry Plains. “It’ll sift down.”

Many districts indicated they plan to stick with school resource officers.

Shortly after the Sandy Hook shooting, the Williamson County Commission authorized hiring resource officers to serve every school in the county and Franklin Special school districts. Those officers are expected to be in place at the beginning of the next school year, and spokesmen for both systems said they don’t anticipate allowing teachers to carry guns.

Phillip Wallace, director of schools in Stewart County, Tenn., was a bit more receptive, indicating that school officials would study the idea. But he added that his district also already has a resource officer in each school.

In Wilson County, “we have not had any conversations about that at all. If we were to consider something like that, it would be in conjunction with law enforcement,” school board Chairman Don Weathers said.

J.C. Bowman, who leads the Professional Educators of Tennessee association, believes the law can help very small school systems that cannot afford full-time officers for their schools. His preference, however, is for each school to have its own dedicated school resource officer. Short of that, an armed employee with appropriate training is better than no protection, he said.

via Tenn. schools slow to embrace armed teachers.

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