By Zachary Horner, Chatham News + Record Staff
The first discussion about a potential resolution from the Chatham County Board of Education asking state and national legislators to increase school safety by barring guns from campuses happened a couple weeks ago.
But the discussion could take on an increased importance after the weekend’s deadly shootings in Dayton, Ohio and El Paso, Texas.
The board discussed the possibility during its July 25 meeting after Blair Reeves, a resident of Briar Chapel, asked the board to consider similar resolutions from the Durham and Guilford County Boards of Education in light of proposed bills in the N.C. General Assembly.
The “School Self-Defense Act,” first filed February 28, would allow faculty and staff at schools to serve as “a volunteer school faculty guardian” after meeting certain criteria and establish a program to “provide active shooting training” to such individuals. The “School Security Act of 2019,” filed on March 7, would pay “a significant salary differential” to teachers who become sworn law enforcement officers.
Neither bill has advanced beyond introduction, but Reeves said he’s concerned about the future of the issue.
“Policies like these would horrify most North Carolina parents if they knew about them,” Reeves said. “We need to think about these issues and engage them.”
The idea was supported by board member Melissa Hlavac, who said a potential resolution would “talk about how safety is paramount for us here in Chatham County.” Board Chairman Gary Leonard, a former Chatham County Schools educator, agreed.
“As a former teacher, I’m not sure that I would have been comfortable with Gary carrying a gun to school,” Leonard said. “I’m not sure that sits real well with me anyway. I would be happy to look at more.”
The Guilford resolution the board briefly discussed included the board “asking for effective and comprehensive action from the federal government and the State of North Carolina to protect schoolchildren” and expressing its opposition to “legislative proposals to arm teachers or other school personnel,” among other items. Chatham’s school board members didn’t say what details they wanted to include, but uniformly expressed an interest in crafting a similar one.
“One thing we can all agree on is about keeping our schools safe,” Hlavac said. “They turned this into a Second Amendment issue. I want to make sure we continue to lead with safety in mind across all avenues.”
Current school board policy prohibits students, employees, visitors or others from bringing weapons and weapon-like items — ranging from loaded and unloaded firearms to leaded canes and icepicks — on school property. Students found with a firearm or destructive device on school property or at a school-sponsored event must be suspended for a full year, according to law, unless the superintendent determines the possession came about as part of reporting the infraction or the student “had no intent to use the firearm or destructive device in a harmful or threatening way.”
According to the 2017 Youth Risk Behavior Survey, 7.6 percent of Chatham high school students reported carrying a gun not for hunting or sport in the past 12 months, 18.1 percent reported carrying a weapon within the last month and 4.8 percent said they carried a weapon on school property in the last 30 days. Additionally, 8.5 percent said they were “threatened or injured with a weapon on school property in the past 12 months.” All of those percentages were higher than the national average and comparable to their state counterparts.
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