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Gainesville board votes to put guns in schools
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By: Nat Gurley

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» The Gainesville school board held a first reading on a policy that would require only 23 units for high school graduation; Gainesville High School now requires 24 while the state only asks for 23.

“Our recommendation is that we are consistent with state requirements and the career pathways,” Superintendent Merrianne Dyer said, referring to the initiative that requires high school students to take courses in a “pathway” that may lead to a future career. “I have learned that students who desire to take more courses do, and many of them graduate in four years,” she added. “However, some students don’t make that four-year mark because of that additional unit.”

The school board approved the first reading. The proposal now goes to school governance councils for further review. The issue will be brought up again at the February school board meeting.

» Board members remain unimpressed with the janitorial services provided by Southern Management, the firm they contracted with beginning July 1.

A report submitted by Director of Maintenance and Operations Adrian Niles gave the firm an overall grade of “C.”

”My memory of this issue is we began talking about this in September and gave them a couple of months,” said board member David Syfan. “They were supposed to show improvement.”

The Times previously reported Gainesville City Schools pays more than $103,000 a month for the contract, which lasts for one year, with a renewal option for two years.

Company spokesman Ashley Weaver said there may have been a miscommunication.

“Several (school principals) have said we’re not buffing (the floors) every night,” he said. “We never committed to buffing every night. So we’re getting graded with ‘Ds’ and ‘Cs’ on floors for something we never committed to do.” Weaver said he plans to sit down with each school principal to clarify expectations.

» Monday’s school board meeting was the last one for Syfan, who had served for 12 years.

“I’m going to miss proudly serving,” Syfan said, his voice breaking. “I served a long time. It’s been an honor to be on the school board. I’ve been proud to be on the school board.”

Syfan, who chose not to run for re-election, will be replaced by Brett Mercer, who ran unopposed.

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Gainesville school resource officers will soon have access to long-range rifles at the high school and middle school levels.

The Gainesville school board approved the measure at its Monday meeting; board member Willie Mitchell voted against it, and Vice Chairwoman Delores Diaz was absent.

“We have a very strong relationship with Gainesville Police Department,” Chairwoman Maria Calkins said. “We work with them every day to protect the kids and make Gainesville City Schools a safe place.”

The police department initially approached the school board with the idea of allowing long-range rifles earlier in 2013, shortly after the December 2012 Newtown, Conn., elementary school shooting that left 26 students and faculty members dead.

The issue was readdressed in a September work session.

As accepted by the school board, there will be one rifle each in Gainesville High School, Gainesville Middle School and Wood’s Mill Academy. The proposed gun, a Colt 6920 M4 carbine, would be kept inside a safe, accessible only by the school resource officer using biometric technology. Further, the rifle would never be on campus if the resource officer was not there; it would be locked in his vehicle.

The estimated cost is $6,000, to be split evenly between the school system and police department. Both Calkins and Gainesville Superintendent Merrianne Dyer were unsure when the rifles would be placed inside the schools.

Mitchell opposed the measure.

“For some reason or another, I just can’t buy into guns in school,” he said. “I’m not sure that’s the best way to (take care) of the situation.

“I understand with some things in life ... things make headlines,” Mitchell added.

“We respond. To me it’s like putting Band-Aids on a cancer. Yeah, we need to study ways to keep bad people out of our school system but a gun in a cabinet, away from where probably the scene would happen, isn’t going to stop any damage.”

While the nation mourned the one-year anniversary of the Newtown school shooting Saturday, and another high school shooting took place Friday in Colorado, leaving the shooter dead and a second student seriously injured, Calkins stressed the vote is not in reaction to any outside events.

“This is about the relationship between Gainesville Police Department and Gainesville City Schools,” Calkins said. “And what (the police) feel they need to do to do their job. It has nothing to do with any other school systems.”

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