Some School Board Commissioners Hesitant to Arm Employees in Schools

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(Memphis) Several Shelby County Schools commissioners have told News Channel 3 they are not in favor of the new state law that allows local school boards to choose whether to let certain qualified faculty and staff carry weapons.

The law, entitled the "School Security Act" was signed into law this week.

Governor Bill Haslam told News Channel 3 that the legislature overwhelmingly supported the idea.

Describing the people qualified to carry, he said, "These are only folks who are POST-certified, who have actually had police-certified training and have been certified as a law-enforcement officer."

If the local school board chooses to allow the policy, these individuals must pay for their own weapon and permit, and undergo 40 hours of basic police training.

They must get permission from the principal and superintendent, who then informs the local law enforcement agency that this employee is carrying a gun on campus.

The identities of those carrying the weapons would not be made public.

"If something did happen in a school...Having them on property to react to that would make a safer situation," Haslam said.

But some local school board members disagree.

Kenneth Whalum Jr., a Shelby County School Board commissioner, said, "It would almost be like setting up a little penitentiary inside the school, and I have a problem with it."

He calls it "pentitentiarizing" public education, where local school boards may end up putting more armed employees in inner-city schools that are perceived to have more problems with violence.

"There is this false sense of security as long as you have people with guns, but who's going to police the teachers? Who's going to make sure the teacher doesn't have something in their background, PTSD or something?" Whalum said.

He is also concerned about potential accidents and misfires, while other school board members said they would be uncomfortable with the environment these weapons would create.

Commissioner David Reaves told News Channel 3 there would be an added burden on teachers with the guns, and a cloud hanging over the heads of everyone left guessing who has the weapons.

At least six commissioners so far do not wish to arm employees on campuses. Some of them suggested sticking with existing policies that require a school resource officer on each campus. These officers are either district-hired security or police officers assigned to the school.

Sen. Mark Norris (R-Collierville) said that he hopes the Shelby County Board of Education would seriously consider this policy.

"Don't be afraid. Be afraid about places where maybe people aren't prepared to protect those who deserve to be protected," Norris said.

Norris called the law a "common sense approach to a real problem."

Whalum said he believes the solution instead, is enforcing existing security measures, like the use of metal detectors.

In a world where more adults at school can be armed, Whalum said, "There's another arrow in your quiver. Another tool in your tool belt to maintain order. It cannot end well."