Pros and cons of arming Eagle Point School District staffers were debated Wednesday evening at the first meeting of a "Weapons Safety Committee" — tasked with creating policy on the controversial issue.
Composed of about 20 teachers, staff members, parents, weapons experts, local law enforcement and administrators, the hour-and-a-half meeting was moderated by Allen Barber, the district's human resources director.
The discussion was watched closely by School Board President Scott Grissom. Recently re-elected to his seat for another four-year term, Grissom is promoting arming district staffers, telling committee members their job is to establish a policy that will 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.
Anyone unwilling to put forth ideas to implement the weapons plan is "on the wrong committee," Grissom said.
The number of school shootings is "trending upwards" and nearing "pandemic" levels, Grissom said. The shooters are generally mentally ill individuals, and arming staff is his goal, Grissom said. "This is a serious problem," he said. "We want to be proactive. We want to defend our kids."
Eagle Point resident Terry Marks, a retired police sergeant from La Mesa, Calif., voiced the strongest opposition to the idea of arming district personnel. A former school liaison officer with extensive experience in firearms and use-of-force training, Marks cut to the chase. "I just cannot tell you how adamantly I am opposed to guns on campuses," Marks said.
Officers sign up for hazardous duty, and they train continually, he said. Educators cannot be adequately trained to a level where they could reliably respond to an incident with a gun-wielding suspect intent on destruction, Marks said.
Marks urged the district to work harder increase school safely from a logistical point of view. Better fencing and lock-down systems such as the one recently installed in Shady Cove would be a better solution, he said.
"We're going to bring in an outside consultant to secure the schools," Barber said.
Teachers and administrators voiced concerns about potential student access to weapons, increased trauma to students during ongoing safety drills, and the impact on both staff and students should gun violence occur.
Eagle Point High School Principal Tim Rupp said he was trying to remain neutral on the topic. But that giving a teacher a few hours of training and a gun was a "short-sighted" answer to a complex issue.
"Are students safer if our employees are carrying a weapon? Is it truly a deterrent?" Rupp asked. "On the other hand, if it saved one life, it would be worth it."
Eric Yarborough, a firearms instructor, said staff members at Sandy Hook Elementary School laid down their lives to protect their students. They had no weapons. It is time to train and arm personnel in the Eagle Point district, he said.
"I'm sure the high school has a lot of teachers who are hunters and ex-military," Yarborough said.
Students are not allowed to bring dangerous weapons to school. But the district has "no policy" for district employees regarding firearms, said Barber. The district's existing policy to threats of harm is for teachers to lock their doors and hide with the students, he said.
Eagle Point police Chief Vern Thompson, Capt. Terry Larson, and Sgt. Jeremy Whipple of the Jackson County Sheriff's Department also discussed the realities of teachers and the potential use of lethal force from a police perspective.
There are four ways educators likely would respond to an armed intruder — "freeze, faint, fight or flight," Thompson said.
"You've been taught flight," Thompson said.
Larson initially spoke on behalf of Sheriff Mike Winters. Having an armed teacher running up and down hallways looking for a suspect puts the teacher and responding police officers at risk.
"If we do arm teachers, we do it safely," Larson said. "There is no right answer. But I am glad we are talking about it."
The group will meet again, Barber said, but the next meeting has not yet been scheduled.
Reach reporter Sanne Specht at 541-776-4497 or email email@example.com.