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School safety talks go beyond arming teachers 0

May 14, 2018

State lawmakers kicked off a wide-ranging discussion on fortifying Georgia’s schools on Monday, just days after a second Georgia district opted to arm its staff.

Laurens County in middle Georgia and, more recently, Fannin County in north Georgia have embraced the idea of arming school personnel in the wake of the Parkland, Florida, high school shooting that killed 14 students and three staff members.

That option was packed into the so-called “Guns Everywhere” law that passed in 2014. No districts had taken the state up on the offer until this year. Others are said to be now considering it.

Fannin County Sheriff Dane Kirby told a group of lawmakers Monday that locals appreciated the school board for having the “guts” to be among the first. Approved staff would only be allowed to have holstered handguns.

Kirby said some have questioned the wisdom of distracting teachers from their classroom responsibilities, but he called that a misconception.

“They don’t know what we’re doing, because we haven’t done nothing yet,” Kirby said. “We have not said anything about making teachers carry guns. We’ve not said anything about making anybody, who doesn’t want to, carry guns in schools. It’s totally voluntary.”

A national push to arm teachers has been one of the responses to the Parkland shooting, driven in large part by President Donald Trump. But aside from Kirby’s remarks, there was little talk of arming teachers and staff at Monday’s meeting.

Rep. Rick Jasperse, R-Jasper, who is leading the special panel and who was the author of the 2014 law, said the committee’s focus is much broader. Much of the focus Monday centered on school climate and how it affects campus safety and security.

“It’s not just one little thing,” Jasperse said.

The study committee was created this session and quickly picked up members, with appointees announced nearly two weeks before the governor even finished signing – or vetoing – bills. Rep. Mandi Ballinger, R-Canton, who sponsored last year’s campus carry measure, is the committee’s vice chair.

The panel gathered for its inaugural meeting Monday at the Dawson County Board of Education offices and will continue to meet throughout this year.

“It is my view that this year this is going to be a high priority of the House of Representatives,” House Speaker David Ralston, R-Blue Ridge, said to lawmakers Monday.

The work comes on the heels of a session that pumped $16 million into school security grants, which will be divvied up statewide based on the number of students. The money can be spent on metal detectors, cameras and other security upgrades.

Lawmakers also passed a measure this year that exempts school safety plans from the state’s Open Records Act. The bill also set minimum requirements for safety plans, including mental health awareness training, and requires local officials to look at school climate in addition to student attendance.

The group of lawmakers could suggest other legislative changes for next session, but Ralston assured local officials that the day-to-day decision making on security will continue to be left to them.

“This is not an effort by the state to interfere with local governance and control of schools,” Ralston said. “Rather, this is simply a way to see if we can help local school districts ensure the safety of their staff and students.”

The sheriffs in four north Georgia counties and area school officials who spoke Monday came with ideas – most of which involve more funding. More help is particularly needed, they said, with hiring school resource officers and making state aid for security improvements permanent.

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Speaker of the
Georgia House of Representatives

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