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Medford School Board member opposes armed educators idea

A Medford School Board member has criticized state Rep. Dennis Richardson's call to arm educators at local campuses to help prevent a mass shooting in Oregon.

"I respect Dennis Richardson, but I don't always agree with him," said Paulie Brading, a former principal at three Oregon schools who has been on the board since 2008. "It's almost a knee-jerk reaction that has politicized this situation."

Richardson, R-Central Point, has proposed arming and training two to three school officials at each school in the state to help prevent the kind of mass killing that occurred at Sandy Hook Elementary School in Newton, Conn., where 26 people died, 20 of them children.

"I'm not politicizing this," said Richardson, who has gained some national attention for his suggestion. "I'm not running for office."

The National Rifle Association on Friday also called for armed school guards on campuses.

Brading, who wrote her opinions on the liberal website BlueOregon, said Richardson ignores the fact that Medford's two high schools and two middle schools already have full-time armed officers on each site who are part of the Medford Police Department. In addition, the district has two unarmed community service officers trained by the police department.

The armed presence is paid out of the police department's budget. The school district contributes $50,000 annually for the community service officers.

Since the Columbine High School massacre in 1999, Medford schools have beefed up security at campuses, she said.

Surveillance cameras and lockdown drills supervised by police are now a common practice, Brading said. Individual classrooms can be locked, and computer systems help teachers keep track of students.

Richardson said that despite the efforts at the secondary schools, the district still doesn't have an armed presence at elementary campuses.

"It (current practices) would not have saved the lives or stopped what has happened in Sandy Hook," he said.

To bolster his argument for armed civilians at schools, Richardson said an officer in uniform would be the first target if a shooter entered a campus, though Brading said the uniform and the gun could act as a deterrent.

Despite their views, both Brading and Richardson agree that schools should be protected.

Brading said the major difference she has with Richardson is that she would prefer to have a trained police officer with a gun rather than a civilian with only minimal training. She said she is not opposed to more of an armed presence at elementary schools, though she is not interested in promoting what she views as the potential for an arms race.

Richardson, a conservative known for opposing increasing taxes, said schools don't have the financial resources to pay for an armed officer, particularly when there are some 99,000 campuses in the U.S.

"At $100,000 a year for an officer, what teacher would they have to lay off to make that happen?" he said.

He suggested that arming key personnel would be a more effective method of handling the situation, given the tight budgets faced by school districts.

Brading said schools attempt to create a welcoming environment for students, and she felt Richardson's suggestion would move schools more in the direction of being prisons for students.

She said Richardson is advocating an armed presence in schools while the Legislature can't provide enough education dollars to hire more teachers and limit class sizes.

Medford police Deputy Chief Tim Doney said it's not unusual for a police department and school district to agree to have an assigned armed officer at a campus. He said it is common practice throughout Oregon schools, particularly in larger school districts.

When school's not in session, the officers who would normally patrol campuses shift their duties to gang-related issues with the Medford Area Drug and Gang Enforcement Team.

Doney said that despite the recent tragedies, schools are a relatively safe place for children.

"It is more dangerous to drive on public highways than to be in public schools," Doney said.

Reach reporter Damian Mann at 541-776-4476, or email dmann@mailtribune.com.