Parents and teachers from three Gainesville schools met with city police Monday about a proposal to place rifles in the hands of school resource officers.
“I was on the school governance council when it first came up just as a memorandum for us to approve,” said Ashley Bell, chairman of the Gainesville High governance council. “I think it’s appropriate that they had this meeting today because there were some questions initially.”
The group meeting was set for governance council members from Gainesville High, Gainesville Middle and Wood’s Mill Academy to ask questions of the police department. The majority of the 15 attendees were teachers, not including the council chairs.
Under the plan, a Colt 6920 M4 carbine would be placed inside a safe in the three schools. Currently, the school resource officer would be the only one to have access to the rifle.
The safe would only be able to be opened by fingerprint recognition, Lt. Jay Parrish said.
The Gainesville Police Department had initially approached the school system about the idea in April, after the December 2012 Sandy Hook Elementary School shooting in Newtown, Conn., where 26 students and adults lost their lives.
The issue was revisited at the Sept. 3 work session of the school board, after an attempted school shooting at DeKalb County’s McNair Discovery Learning Academy in August.
The school board decided to delay voting on the issue until it heard from the school governance councils. So far, Gainesville Middle is the only one to have voted, choosing to support the initiative.
The Wood’s Mill and Gainesville High councils expect to vote on the initiative in their respective October meetings. Their votes will then be sent to the board of education.
“Now we have a good understanding for three big questions, which are: Is this going to make our kids safer? How much is it going to cost? And will these weapons be secure?” Bell said.
The cost is expected to be around $6,000 for one rifle per school, plus a safe for each campus. The cost would be split by the police and the school system. The school’s $3,000 portion would come out of the system’s general fund budget, Superintendent Merrianne Dyer said.
As far as protecting students, Police Chief Brian Kelly said the department’s “first and foremost” priority is “protection of life.”
He explained that, after the Newtown school shooting, the police department began evaluating local schools and noticed several long corridors and large spaces. The rifle would be able to engage targets from much longer distances than the resource officers’ handguns, he said.
Along with the safe being accessible only by the school resource officer, Kelly said the rifle would never be left on school property unattended.
The resource officers would lock the weapons in their vehicle during non-school hours, Parrish added.
In the meantime, he said criminals may first target an officer’s vehicle. The school resource officer would be able to more easily access the weapon in a secure safe inside his or her office, he said.
Resource officers are not based at elementary schools, but the department is looking into adding more. School resource officers do visit and have responsibilities in elementary schools, Parrish said.
“It’s something that’s important in our community and our schools,” Gainesville High teacher Bryant Tench said. “We just want to be sure everyone is safe.
“I’m keeping an open mind,” he added.
Dyer said the board of education hopes to vote on the issue in October, but is waiting to hear from the school councils.
“It shows they’ve got a good bit of trust in their councils,” she said about the audience.
Bell, the parent of a high school freshman, said he feels more comfortable with the idea of a rifle in school after Monday’s meeting.