Eagle Point debates arming school staff

District board considers policy in attempt to protect students from potential violence

The Eagle Point School District is considering arming some of its staff members as a way to better protect students from school violence.

The motion to train and arm teachers came at Wednesday's School Board meeting from board President Scott Grissom. School shootings in California, Colorado and Connecticut have created a new reality about the potential for campus dangers, he said.

"The first three minutes of an armed attack require an armed response," Grissom said.

Grissom, recently re-elected to a four-year term, did not immediately return calls Thursday from the Mail Tribune. At Wednesday's meeting, Grissom said he was "very committed" to his goal of establishing a policy that would allow specific school employees to possess certain firearms on school property during normal school hours, at school-sponsored or school-sanctioned events, and at board meetings.

Employees approved by the board would be trained in firearm safety. They would also receive extra compensation for their additional "position expectations," as well as liability insurance, Grissom said.

Students are not allowed to bring dangerous weapons to school. But the district has no policy regarding district employees carrying firearms, said Superintendent Cynda Rickert.

Grissom said his plan would have a deterrent effect on those who might be plotting violence.

Eagle Point students would be "the safest kids in Oregon and probably on the West Coast," he said.

"I trust our teachers," Grissom said. "An armed intruder wouldn't come into our schools knowing teachers had concealed weapons."

Grissom's recommendation would create a policy that would prohibit all nonauthorized employees, district volunteers and district contractors and/or their employees from possessing a dangerous or deadly weapon or firearm on district property or at school-sponsored events.

Outgoing board member Jim Mannenbach said Grissom's plan could endanger the lives of students and staff. Mannenbach urged the board to consider going after federal grants that would fund the hiring of more school resource officers. Professionally trained officers respond to threats in a manner that is "much better for the safety of everyone," he said.

"Trained police officers know when to shoot and when not to shoot," Mannenbach said.

Board member Mary Olsen said hiring more safety resource officers was not fiscally viable at this time. In the meantime, training and arming teachers was a good "temporary stop gap," she said.

"I'd hate to have something happen," Olsen said. "I don't want to see us be a statistic in the newspaper."

Grissom first brought up the topic of arming teachers during a workshop a couple months ago, Rickert said Thursday. She was initially uncomfortable with the idea, and her concerns remain. But Rickert said she would be open-minded about studying the issue.

"My personal inclination is real hesitancy," Rickert said. "As an educator, in my world, this makes me very, very uncomfortable. But I am willing to look into it and see where it takes us."

Board Vice President Ted Dole said he was uncomfortable moving ahead with establishing policy without more work sessions. Dole asked that Grissom's motion be tabled so that Rickert can "establish a committee to develop procedures and processes regarding the authorization of specific employees to carry firearms on campus."

"I'm not comfortable with saying, 'We're going to do this, and then we're going to figure it out,' " Dole said.

Grissom amended his motion to direct Rickert to establish a committee to research the issue. The motion passed 4 to 1, with Mannenbach voting against.

Rickert said Thursday she has asked Director of Secondary Education Allen Barber to establish the committee and research the topic. The committee will include law enforcement officers, teachers, staff members, parents and legal counsel, she said.

"We have great partnerships with local law enforcement, so we will rely heavily on their input," Rickert said.

Reach reporter Sanne Specht at 541-776-4497 or sspecht@mailtribune.com.


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