PIKEVILLE — Teachers could soon be carrying concealed guns inside schools in Pike County under a proposal that was preliminarily approved Monday evening by the Pike County School Board.
The unanimous decision came after the board heard concerns about school safety from teachers, parents and administrators during a town hall meeting at Pike County Central High School. The discussion was prompted by multiple school shootings in recent weeks, including one at Marshall County High School in Western Kentucky that left two dead and another in Florida that left 17 dead.
The motion authorizes the school board’s attorney to work with the Pike County Sheriff’s Office, which would oversee the program, to finalize a formal policy for the school board to consider.
Pike County Schools Superintendent Reed Adkins said he hopes the board will give final approval within two to three weeks, and to have armed staff in schools by fall, if not sooner.
“You hope you’re making the right decision for kids, but I know right now something’s got to be done,” Adkins said. “We may be criticized, but at the end of the day I’ll take criticism to protect my students.”
Josh Akers, executive director of the Kentucky Center for School Safety, said Tuesday there are no schools in Kentucky that allow teachers to carry guns, and that “every educational group across the country” opposes the idea.
Nearly everyone who spoke at the meeting, though, supported arming staffers who would be trained by the Sheriff’s Office.
“This program … could be a model for the rest of the state and, possibly, the country,” said state Sen. Ray Jones, D-Pikeville, who attended the meeting.
Many also offered other suggestions to improve school security, such as door locks and cameras, and more counseling opportunities for troubled students.
Under the new proposal, school employees could volunteer to serve as concealed-carry guards at schools throughout the county. Each volunteer would be subject to a background test, drug test, mental evaluation, and a qualification course, including firearms training, led by the Sheriff’s Office, which offered to provide the training for free.
“This is not an action to force teachers to do something they’re uncomfortable with, or are unwilling to do,” said Timothy Cline, an English teacher at Pike County Central High School who supported the effort. “It’s a big decision, granted, but it’s one we need to make now.”
Each armed person would have to re-qualify multiple times a year, possibly as many as four times, to serve as an armed guard, said Eddie Crum, a detective with the Sheriff’s Office.
Crum also said the Sheriff’s Office will perform unannounced inspections to assure that the firearms are properly concealed and that the deputies are in compliance with the program’s guidelines.
“I think it’s a good idea if it’s ran right,” Crum said.
The firearms training would include shooting at paper targets and more intensive combat training, said Lynn Cross, chief deputy at the Sheriff’s Office.
Akers, with the Kentucky Center for School Safety, said Tuesday that the idea of teachers carrying guns “scares me to death.”
“I don’t want to put down their ideas and their efforts down there, but I want them to proceed very cautiously,” Akers said. “Arming people who are not trained equal to that of law enforcement officers is risky.”
Akers said armed staff could do more harm than good in a school shooting by accidentally shooting an innocent student or by causing confusion among law enforcement who arrive at the scene. The most important way to prevent mass shootings is to develop relationships between students and teachers, he said.
Many at Monday’s meeting who supported arming teachers also complained about poor security at Pike County schools.
“A gunman could walk in at any time and kill those kids,” said Connie Compton, a teacher at Shelby Valley High School. “My room is within five seconds of a door that you can go in and out of at any time.”
Compton said that before thinking about armed “resource officers,” another term for sworn law-enforcement officers, “we need to get schools locked down first.”
The idea of arming teachers has created political controversy in recent weeks, with President Donald Trump backing the idea while others push for gun control measures, including a ban on high-powered semiautomatic rifles.
State Sen. John Schickel, R- Union, has introduced Senate Resolution 172 that would urge boards of education to allow teachers and other school personnel to carry firearms for their own protection. Under current federal and state law, school boards can contract with someone, including a teacher or other school staff, to allow them to carry firearms on school grounds, according to state education officials.
Another proposal, Senate Bill 103, would allow public and private schools in Kentucky that cannot afford to hire a resource officer to designate one of their employees as an armed “school marshal.”
School resource officers are sworn law-enforcement officers with specialized training and established relationships with local police agencies. But given budget constraints, there are only 230 of them in roughly half of Kentucky’s counties, according to the Kentucky Center for School Safety.
Fayette County Schools employ 35 resource officers to watch over its 67 schools and programs. In response to recent school shootings, the district has created a safety advisory panel to consider the idea of stationary metal detectors in schools and is implementing several other security upgrades, including expansion of its anonymous tip lines, providing schools with more hand-held metal detector wands and expanding emergency drills.
In Pike County, employing law enforcement officers rather than allowing volunteers to carry guns would cost more than $1 million annually, far more than the county could afford, officials said.
Multiple mothers of Pike County students urged quick action Monday to provide schools with some type of security, saying their children have been scared to attend school.
Other citizens said they were concerned that teachers would not be emotionally able to shoot one of their current or former students in a mass shooting scenario.
“To know whether or not you can take a round or give a round, you’ll never know until you’re there,” said Adkins, the school superintendent. “It’s not going to be perfect, but it’ll be much better than where we sit today.”
In addition to the new program, school officials said they plan to conduct active shooter scenario training at all schools in the county before the next school year begins.
Officials said they also plan to conduct evaluations of school security systems. Potential upgrades could include locking mechanisms that allow each teacher to lock their individual classrooms, and better systems to secure main school entrances.
Officials said they do not yet know how many staff will carry guns throughout the county, but said each school will likely have more than one armed staff member.
“This decision is not easy, deciding to put weapons in a school that you’re trying to keep weapons out of,” said Pike County School Board Chairman Justin Maynard. “I don’t know that it stops (school shootings), I think it ultimately minimizes it.”
Will Wright is a corps member with Report for America, an initiative of The GroundTruth Project. Reach him at 859-270-9760, @HLWright
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