The East Knox Board of Education passed a resolution this month that gives the superintendent the authority to allow staff members to carry weapons in school. The March 15 vote took place just over a month after 17 people were killed at a school shooting in Parkland, Fla. on Feb. 15.
School districts nationwide are tackling the topic of guns in schools following the March for Our Lives, a demonstration for gun control in Washington, D.C. attended by an estimated 800,000 people. Approximately 450 marches took place that day, putting the estimated participant total at 1.2 million. Mount Vernon City School District and East Knox Local School District, both of which are in Knox County, have engaged in conversations and actions in an effort to protect their students from gun violence, according to district administrators.
While Mount Vernon City School District has no plan to arm school staff, East Knox Local School District has taken steps to do so.
East Knox Local School District
East Knox Superintendent Steve Larcomb said the East Knox Board of Education has been considering a resolution to arm teachers since the Sandy Hook Elementary School shooting in 2012. Over the past several years the board has taken measures to protect students from a similar incident. Larcomb has been working with the Knox County Sheriff’s Office and the Knox County Office of Homeland Security and Emergency Management. In addition, barricades have been installed on classroom doors and teachers have received active shooter training.
“We have been asking ourselves what else can we do,” Larcomb said. “We are always trying to figure out how we can minimize risk.”
Larcomb estimated it would take a Knox County officer six minutes to respond to an incident at the East Knox schools. He said arming staff could cut that time in half. Larcomb is also talking to the Knox County Sheriff’s Office to see if it could provide school resource officers as an alternative to arming existing staff members.
Vice President of Kenyon Students for Gun Sense Jessie Gorovitz ’19 was skeptical of the resolution.
“Having guns in schools and having guns in classrooms does not make anybody safer,” Gorovitz said. “If [the superintendent] wants to protect his students as well as he can, then he should make sure there are no guns in the classroom or anywhere near the school.”
Though guns are often used for defense, there are hundreds of unintentional gun deaths each year. In 2015, 489 Americans, including many children, died from an unintentional gun injury, according to the National Center for Health Statistics.
President Donald Trump suggested in a tweet that having someone armed in schools would deter school shooters, following the Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School shooting.
“If schools are mandated to be gun free zones, violence and danger are given an open invitation to enter. Almost all school shootings are in gun free zones. Cowards will only go where there is no deterrent!” the tweet reads.
At Stoneman Douglas, there was an armed security guard who evacuated the school during the shooting. There is some concern over whether or not school staff would be effective in an active shooter situation. Trained police officers hit their targets less than 18 percent of the time in active shooter situations, according to a 2008 RAND Corporation study. Teachers and school staff would likely have even lower rates of accuracy, senior fellow at the Brookings Institute Michael Hansen wrote in a blog post on Feb. 27.
Under the new resolution, Larcomb will decide who will be allowed to carry a weapon in school. To qualify, staff members must have a concealed-carry permit, and experience handling firearms from hunting or military training. In addition, staff members will need to go through training with the Buckeye Firearms Association, a gun rights organization based in Columbus, OH that provides firearm training.
Gorovitz said Kenyon Students for Gun Sense, along with Kenyon Democrats of which she is the president, will work to support candidates who oppose guns in schools in the next school board elections.
Mijal Epelman ’20, the administrative chair of the Partnership with East Knox and Kenyon (PEKK), a group that provides volunteers from Kenyon to East Knox Schools, said the resolution will not impact the organization’s relationship with East Knox schools.
“PEKK is apolitical,” Epelman said. “We are on the side of the students and on the side of the schools.”
Epelman said PEKK board members are planning on attending the East Knox Board of Education’s meeting next month to get more information on the resolution. Another PEKK volunteer, Ben Douglas ’18, said PEKK’s board members will discuss the resolution with their current volunteers as well as in future PEKK orientations.
“We also care about the safety of our volunteers, so if any of our volunteers were to not feel comfortable with going into the school, we would respect that,” Douglas said.
Mount Vernon City School District
Around 50 Mount Vernon High School (MVHS) students participated in the March 14 national school walkout, which was planned in solidarity with the Stoneman Douglas High School students affected by gun violence. Thousands of schools participated nationwide. At 10 a.m., students left their classrooms for 17 minutes — one for every student killed in the shooting.
“It was mostly students,” MVHS Principal Scott Will said. “We did not have faculty that joined in. Our school resource officer was outside with the kiddos. Our maintenance director, who also is in charge of campus safety for our district, was out there as well. We had a board member who came out.”
“I really think … our kids went out there in support of those 17 individuals that lost their lives,” Will said, adding that many of them were less clear on the specifics of gun control.
Some MVHS students have posted messages that implied gun violence on social media in recent years, according to Will.
“We had a couple of young people post some threats that definitely weren’t something that you could blow off in terms of, ‘Ah, they’re just blowing off steam,’ because you have to take everything seriously now,” Will said. “The good thing is, we’ve had excellent communication from our student body when things come up of that nature.”
The Mount Vernon City School District (MVCSD) Board of Education discussed the issue of school safety during their March 19 meeting, ultimately concluding they would not consider arming teachers. So far, the school district has focused on making facilities safer.
To do so, the MVCSD plans to install a door-locking product called Rapid Barricade in all district classrooms. MVCSD Director of Maintenance Rick Shaffer invented and patented the product, which he plans to introduce to first responders at local schools, including Kenyon.
“If you go into lockdown, you flip it with your finger and it makes it so you cannot open the door from the outside,” Shaffer said. “But when you leave and turn the handle, it turns it out of the way, so it takes no extra motions in case of a fire.”
Will said it is a difficult time to be the principal of a public school.
“It definitely gives you a few more grey hairs when you go home at night, being in charge of protecting staff and students, knowing there’s a lot of things that happen that are out of your control,” Will said. “A lot of administrators are probably having those same thoughts.”