State school board members support current gun policies

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Members of the State Board of Education indicated Thursday said they supported current school regulations that ban anyone except trained law enforcement officials from carrying guns on campus.

The moves came in the middle of a presentation to the board on school safety, a focus of a joint legislative panel convened by House Speaker Mike Hubbard, R-Auburn, in the wake of the shootings at Sandy Hook Elementary School in Newtown, Conn. State Superintendent of Education Tommy Bice was discussing local school safety plans and Virtual Alabama — a tool allowing first responders to access layouts of schools during emergencies — and told the board he saw “no need” to weigh in on the debate over guns.

Bice told the board he deferred to law enforcement professionals who spoke at a joint hearing of the House and Senate’s Education Policy committees earlier this month. Law enforcement representatives at the hearing said only trained and certified law enforcement officials should carry weapons in school.

“I’m an educator,” Bice said. “I’m not an expert in law enforcement. I defer to the experts who are.”

Board members Charles Elliott and Mary Scott Hunter, both Republicans, said they agreed.

“I think anyone with military or law enforcement experience would reaffirm that,” said Hunter, who served in the Air Force for ten years as a Judge Advocate General. “It takes serious law enforcement training to do this properly.”

Bice noted that state law does not criminalize the possession of guns on school campuses, and that the only recourse school personnel had in such incidents — unless the possessor of the gun had intent to do harm — was to ask the individual to leave.

The legislative committees are collecting testimony on school safety through the end of the month. Rachael Adams, a spokeswoman for Hubbard, said Thursday they would study the testimony and decide whether further legislation of school safety is warranted.

Most of Bice’s presentation reiterated points made at the hearing. The superintendent outlined school safety policies, which must be developed at the local level. Bice said he supports that approach, saying each district had its particular needs. Board members also saw a demonstration of Virtual Alabama, using Auburn High School to show the layout of the building and the locations of various items, from chemicals to defibrillators.

Bice stressed that no safety plan was foolproof. However, he said, the plans being designed by the school districts aimed to minimize the harm from an intruder, a fire or a weather emergency. Bice also reassured the board about overall safety.

“Our schools, regardless of what you hear and see, are probably the safest places on a daily basis,” he said.

– posted by Brian Lyman

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