By Steven Sandberg
EAGLE POINT, Ore. – All options were on the table Wednesday as Eagle Point school officials met with the community to talk about allowing teachers to carry guns in schools.
The Weapons Safety Committee met for the first time at a public meeting Wednesday night to discuss the idea. The panel is made up of parents, teachers, police, and weapons trainers. Currently the district has no policy regarding concealed weapons in schools.
In a school board meeting on June 12, board chair Scott Grissom recommended allowing staff to bring concealed weapons on school grounds. Grissom said it could be a deterrent to school violence.
“I think in the times we’re living in right now, we need to step it up in terms of security at schools,” Grissom said.”
Supporters of the idea said many school shootings end before law enforcement arrives on scene. They said a teacher or staff member with a gun could stop a shooter before more people get hurt.
Eric Yarborough, who runs Lacrosse Firearms Training, said teachers could receive handgun training to make them better equipped to handle an active shooter situation.
“You just cannot hand out firearms without providing them training to make them safe, make sure that they understand how to operate the firearms,” he said.
A number of parents expressed concern that allowing guns on campus would put their children at risk. They said teachers are not properly trained to handle a deadly emergency, and expressed doubt that arming teachers would keep kids or teachers safe.
“How would police tell the difference between a shooter and a teacher with a gun?” Asked Misty Burcham.
Some parents said teachers already have to keep their students hidden and calm during a lockdown. They doubted teachers could do that if they were holding a gun. Several parents were also worried that a teacher with minimal training would not have the right instincts or accuracy in an emergency.
“It’s not appropriate for teachers to be involved in the security of the schools,” said Terry Marks, a retired police officer with two children in the district. “That needs to be in the hands of people who are in that business: the police.”
Other parents said the district should focus its attention on limiting public access to school grounds.
Eagle Point Police Chief Vern Thompson and representatives from the Jackson County Sheriff’s Office were also in attendance. Sheriff’s Captain Terry Larson, speaking on behalf of Sheriff Mike Winters, said teachers using guns in a deadly situation should be a “last resort.”
Sheriff’s Sgt. Jeremy Whipple said law enforcement goes through a rigorous training to be ready to respond to active shooter scenarios.
“We train all the time, and I still think we don’t train enough,” he said.
“Even cops are average shooters. That’s a concern of mine,” added Thompson
Thompson said he wants to see more discussion on the topic before the committee makes a decision, but said that children need to be protected.
“I haven’t heard enough to think student safety would be enhanced [by arming teachers],” he said. “But if you deter one [incident], you’re successful.”
The school district recently teamed with the Jackson County Sheriff’s Office to install a high-tech security system at Shady Cove School. The technology puts a “panic-button” in each classroom, and when pushed, it connects directly to the sheriff’s office in real time, and allows deputies to monitor the situation with cameras and remotely control door locks and navigational lights above doors.
The system would normally cost a school district about $100,000 per school, but Shady Cove’s system was paid for by the sheriff’s office with the drug forfeiture money. It was only installed at Shady Cove. District officials have expressed an interest in having the technology installed at other schools, but said it would be difficult to pay for, and said there are no immediate plans for other schools to receive the system.
At Wednesday’s meeting, district officials said that Future Concepts, which developed the technology, would be willing to install remote-controlled lock boxes in classrooms, which could contain a gun, mace, or other safety items. The sheriff’s office could lock or unlock the boxes from its dispatch center during an emergency. Some parents at Wednesday’s meeting expressed concern that children could potentially access the weapons.
Despite the meeting being open to the public, TV news cameras were not allowed inside. NewsWatch 12 was repeatedly denied requests to bring a camera in, and a sign was posted outside the meeting saying cameras were not allowed. Typically, public meetings permit the use of recording devices. The original agenda and public meeting notice about the meeting did not mention a ban on cameras, and NewsWatch 12 was only informed of the ban after seeking an interview about the story.
School District 9 Human Resources Director Allen Barber cited the district’s lawyer, and said the district could prohibit cameras inside the meeting. Barber said he felt the presence of news cameras would somehow interfere with the discussion.
“We want those volunteer members to be able to have an open and honest discussion,” Barber said. “And I think that a news camera or two or three could inhibit the open and honest dialogue.”
Public comment was also not allowed at the committee meeting. The agenda said anyone who was not on the committee who attempted to speak without being recognized by the chair would be asked to leave.