Local News

July 12, 2014

Thanks, but no thanks

School leaders not interested in law allowing teachers to carry guns

School administrators in Whitfield and Murray counties say they are not interested in a new option that would allow teachers and staff to carry firearms in classrooms and on school campuses.

“We discussed this briefly, when it was introduced by legislators in Atlanta, and have no plans to change existing policies that prohibit weapons in our schools,” said Judy Gilreath, superintendent for Whitfield County Schools.

The question is raised by a provision of Georgia’s Safe Carry Protection Act (House Bill 60) that grants school districts the authority to allow specific personnel to carry guns — with a carrying license and properly administered training — within schools, at school functions, or on buses.

Gov. Nathan Deal signed the controversial bill into law in April. It took effect on July 1.

Lawmakers supporting the bill argued that weapons in the hands of teachers would enhance school safety, and possibly thwart incidents like the 2012 mass shooting at Sandy Hook Elementary in Newtown, Conn.

Most school leaders in the state have turned down the option, asserting that the law doesn’t make kids any safer and only creates new dangers.

Officials representing all three area school systems said last week they don’t see any benefit,  or need, for welcoming in weapons.

“This has not been a conversation that has come up among administrators or the Board of Education,” said Dalton Public Schools Superintendent Jim Hawkins. “I have had one inquiry from an employee who was very concerned for her safety and that of her children (as a parent) if we were to allow guns. I responded that I would not initiate any discussion to take advantage of the new permissive law, and did not feel the board had any interest.”

Said Mike Tuck, district safety director and spokesman for Murray County Schools: “No one has asked about carrying, or expressed a desire to do so. We just do not see the benefit in it. I do not think our administrators were comfortable with the idea of anyone, even themselves, having a weapon at school. Teachers and principals have enough on their plates already.”

Much of the school leaders’ argument rests on the fact that guns are already in schools — in the hands of trained law enforcement officers.

Hawkins said he’d much rather rely on the response of local police, including that of school resource officers (SROs) hired to provide security at various schools.

“The bigger safety picture is the best evidence of what the district is doing. We have established a safety team comprised of Dalton PD (Police Department) and Dalton Public Schools staff,” he said. “(Police) Chief (Jason) Parker and I gave the charge and meet periodically with the joint team. Chief Parker and the Dalton Police Department are our expert partners in safety and we follow their lead.”

“The team has reviewed safety plans, recommended modifications to entrances, designed and led active shooter training for our staff, and are currently working on some exercises for next year. We are very fortunate to have such great partners,” he said.

Currently, the Dalton school system employs three full-time officers — at Dalton High School, Dalton Middle School and Morris Innovative High School — and one part-time officer available on an “as-needed” basis for the system’s six elementary schools.

Gilreath said Whitfield County Schools has an agreement with the Whitfield County Sheriff’s Office for SROs that serve each of its schools.

And, Murray County Schools has added on-site officers, as well.

“We, following the Sandy Hook accident, were very proactive in the way we deal with security,” Tuck said. “We already have officers with weapons on several campuses. It would be superfluous to have a staff member also carry a weapon.”

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