Local Politics

Sunday, Dec 30 2012 07:00 PM

JOSE GASPAR: Locals shooting down idea to arm teachers

By The Bakersfield Californian

BY JOSE GASPAR

Contributing columnist

"Not in my wildest nightmares did I expect to hear anything as ridiculous as this!" said veteran teacher Pam Baugher.

She was referring to the "solution" offered by numerous politicians across the country in response to the massacre of 20 first-graders and six adults at Sandy Hook Elementary in Newtown, Conn.

These elected officials plan to introduce legislation in their respective states that would allow teachers and other staff members to be armed while on campus just in case an armed intruder comes on school grounds. The idea is that an armed teacher or staff member can quickly access his or her weapon of choice and take out the bad guy. But Baugher isn't buying it.

"It's a horrendous idea. We do not have to have loaded campuses anywhere," said the now-retired Baugher, who taught for 40 years and now is a board member of the Bakersfield City School District, the largest elementary district in the state.

Other local educators are equally repulsed by the thought of having their teachers packing heat on campus.

"When you have so many kids around, you have so many people around in that situation, I myself don't think it's a good idea that (guns) are here," said Chris Crawford, superintendent of the Greenfield Union School District.

"There's not been any consideration in regards to arming staff," said Panama-Buena Vista Union School District Assistant Superintendent Gerrie Kincaid. "Our message is to keep weapons out of schools."

State Superintendent of Public Instruction Tom Torlakson told me he thinks it's a terrible idea to have teachers with guns in the classroom and left it at that.

Regardless of what educators say, that's not stopping proponents from unleashing their proposed legislation.

In Missouri, any public school teacher or administrator with a concealed-weapons permit would be allowed to carry a gun under a proposed bill by Republican state Rep. Mike Kelley. Democratic Gov. Jay Nixon isn't crazy about the bill, saying it only puts students at risk. As in California, Missouri law prohibits anyone other than law enforcement from bringing a gun into a public school.

But at least one public school district in the United States decided in 2008 that guns, kids and schools are a good mix.

The Harrold School District has one school with about 110 students and 15 teachers located 150 miles northwest of Fort Worth, Texas. An undisclosed number of teachers and staff members carries concealed weapons.

Superintendent David Thweatt told the Star-Telegram newspaper that he didn't want a plan where you "lock yourself in your closet and hope that an intruder won't hurt you." To date, Thweatt said, there has not been an incident on campus.

Let's hope no gun-toting teacher at the school misplaces his or hers or has it stolen at school.

Over in Utah, meanwhile, more than 200 teachers were expected to pack a convention hall in West Valley City for training -- in concealed weapons. Utah is among the few states that allow people with concealed weapons into public schools without exception. The state's leading gun lobby, the Utah Shooting Sports Council, is offering the six-hour training at no cost to teachers.

If arming teachers isn't the answer in California, the National Rifle Association has the next best answer. CEO Wayne LaPierre finally broke the NRA's silence on the Connecticut school massacre by declaring that placing an armed guard at the schoolhouse is what's needed to keep students safe.

"The only thing that stops a bad guy with a gun is a good guy with a gun," said LaPierre. He went on to blame gun violence on video games, movies, music videos and everything else except the proliferation of guns everywhere.

But at least one local educator agreed with this suggestion.

"Yes, I'm all for it, 100 percent, amen!" Diana Hardesty, who identified herself as a high school teacher, said in an interview. And she wants more than just an armed guard. "I want every marine and every soldier outside every single school," she said.

The debate over gun control is fodder for another column and in coming weeks we'll more than likely be hearing a whole lot of pros and cons in light of the slaughter of innocent children by a mentally deranged man with easy access to powerful weapons.

Despite the high-profile tragedies, Baugher reminds us that schools remain one of the safest places for children. Since the Connecticut incident, school districts across Kern County have been renewing and reviewing safety plans.

Greenfield Superintendent Crawford is asking all sites to review emergency and safe-school plans dealing with intruders on campus. In early January, Bakersfield City Schools will offer professional development in the area of threat assessment.

In a memo sent to all district employees dated Dec. 21, Superintendent Robert Arias states the district will partner with police, sheriff's, probation and fire agencies to review BCSD's Comprehensive School Safety Plans.

Arias nails the issue on the head when he states that employees' awareness and alertness is urgently needed.

"I cannot emphasize enough the importance of notifying school or district personnel of any potential threatening intent or behavior related to the security of our schools," wrote Arias. Amen to that.

-- Jose Gaspar is a reporter for "KBAK/KBFX Eyewitness News" and a contributing columnist for The Californian. These are Gaspar's opinions, not necessarily The Californian's. Email him at elcompa29@gmail.com.

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