ATLANTA (AP) — Georgia’s second-largest school district on Thursday approved a policy allowing some employees who aren’t certified police officers carry guns in schools, but excluded teachers from those who can be armed.
The 4-2 vote by suburban Atlanta’s Cobb County school board split along partisan lines as opponents including gun control activists shouted “Delay the vote!” and “Shame!”
Georgia schools have been able to arm teachers and other personnel under a state law passed in 2014. After a 2018 school shooting in Parkland, Florida, a handful of Georgia’s 180 districts, all with much lower enrollments, had approved policies to arm non-officers on campus. The move in the 106,000-student Cobb school district, one of the nation’s 25 largest, is explicitly a response to the school shooting in Uvalde, Texas that killed 19 students and two teachers last May.
Cobb County Superintendent Chris Ragsdale told board members before the vote that the district only has 67 officers currently for its 114 schools, and that competition to hire police officers is intense.
“If the board gave me a blank check and said go hire a school resource officer for every school in Cobb County, I could not do that,” Ragsdale said.
The policy would have originally allowed teachers to be approved to carry weapons if they had “unique qualifications,” but Ragsdale removed that part of the proposal. Teachers would not be allowed to carry guns.
“I am not in favor of arming teachers. However I am in favor of investigating all options so we could hire retired military, retired law enforcement,” Ragsdale said.
Ragsdale discussed hiring such people and paying them less than certified police officers. But it remained unclear whether the district intends for everyone authorized to carry a gun to be a full-time security employee, or whether the district might also authorize employees who primarily have other duties. A school district spokesperson did not respond to emails and a phone call and a text seeking comment.
The policy says that people would have to be trained, and Ragsdale pledged that they would undergo much the same training as certified school resource officers. He said there would also by a psychological evaluation and that school district Police Chief Ron Storey would get final say on approvals. As per state law, no employee could be penalized for refusing to carry a gun. Their names and all other records would be kept secret.
“On a need to know basis, everyone who needs to know who these individuals are is going to know who they are,” Ragsdale said.
Guns would have to be concealed on the body or secured in a locked safe.
But opponents were not persuaded. Cobb’s school board is sharply split, with four white Republicans and three Black Democrats. One of those Democrats, Jaha Howard, said there was no proof the plan would work
“I have yet to see any data or evidence that more gun-carrying professionals means our kids or staff will be safer,” Howard said. He later tried to postpone the vote until the board’s late August meeting. School starts in Cobb County on Aug. 1.
Alisha Thomas Searcy, who beat Howard and others to become the Democratic nominee for state superintendent of schools in November, echoed Howard’s criticism. She said she opposed anyone but certified police officers being armed in schools.
“As a parent, the last thing I want to think about is more guns at my daughter’s school or any other type school,” she said during a public comment period. “I certainly agree that there’s a need for more caring adults in our school, but not ones who carry guns and aren’t police officers.”
Opponent Charles Cole said the policy was poorly drafted.
“I think it’s dangerous, rash and vastly, wrongly open-ended. ‘Let’s get more guns in schools and we might add some specifics later,’ is not the way we should operate,” Cole said, adding “our children deserve more forethought.”
Those opponents began chanting “Delay the vote!” and prompted a board recess. When the board returned, the four Republicans rejected Howard’s proposed delay and pushed through the measure even as chanting continued.
An earlier version of this story incorrectly stated when Georgia passed a law allowing non-officers to be armed in schools. It was in 2014.
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