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'It's still a scary thing to have to do': Lee schools allowing teachers to carry guns

Stephen Igo • Jul 13, 2018 at 2:15 PM

JONESVILLE — Citing a lack of funds to provide school resource officers (SROs) or other expensive security measures such as metal detectors at the county’s 10 campuses, the Lee County School Board on Thursday adopted a policy to allow school employees to be armed on school property.

District 2 member Rob Hines, a Jonesville attorney and past board chairman representing an area that includes Flatwoods, Jonesville and Blackwater, on Friday said the policy adopted by unanimous vote “basically allows the school system to enter into a program that designates certain teachers as conservators of the peace. That is a special term in the Code of Virginia where the school division can petition a circuit court judge to designate people as such. Our plan is to submit names (to the court) with the plan.”

Hines said he and other board members have spent a lot of time researching the matter, including having discussions over the past year or so with the sheriff and school superintendent as well as school districts in other states such as Ohio, Texas and Florida that have adopted similar measures.

“There has been a lot of input into it, looking into all the pros and cons, so to speak,” Hines said. “There are a lot of legalities that go into it, which is good. We got a lot of advice even from international law firms. So there has been a lot of thought go into it. But it’s still a scary thing to have to do.”

Hines said a separate but related policy was also approved during Thursday’s board meeting to allow teachers to opt to carry pepper spray if they aren’t comfortable packing a firearm.

“Some people may be more comfortable carrying pepper spray than a gun,” Hines said.

In the weeks leading up to Thursday’s vote, he said, more than three dozen teachers had already signed up for the program in anticipation it would receive board approval, and he expects, following the vote, that perhaps as many as 50 might apply.

“As of the meeting last night, we’ve had 37 people who have applied. But I know of multiple other people right now who want to sign on as well,” Hines said. “Now we probably won’t have that many who might actually wind up in the program — we’re not going to be the wild, wild West after all — because there is mandatory training, psychological testing, background checks and that sort of thing to be designated a conservator of the peace. It’s got a lot behind it.”

Four of the county’s 10 schools do have SROs, including the two high schools and Jonesville and Pennington Gap middle schools, the latter two because of financial backing from the respective towns. The county simply cannot afford SROs at all schools, Hines said, let alone financially prohibitive security measures like metal detectors that would need to be manned at all times in any case.

Some citizens spoke against the policy on Thursday, Hines said, but many others — including a female teacher who Hines said “broke down in tears asking us to let (teachers)” protect their children and themselves — spoke in favor.

“One thing that makes me feel better of it is that people here are most often than not very familiar with guns and gun safety. They’ve been raised with guns and raised on gun safety and how to safely handle them, so I think that helps,” Hines said.

“Like I say, I hate that we’ve gotten to this point. But I would rather push forward with it than have something terrible happen and have that on my conscience that we didn’t do everything we possibly could to keep our children safe. It’s a sad thing yet a necessary thing, but we are at that point.”

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