Ky. education commissioner: 'No armed guard could have prevented Newtown incident'

jwarren@herald-leader.comDecember 21, 2012 

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Kentucky Education Commissioner Terry Holliday said that although he backs safety in schools, he questions the workability of the National Rifle Association's call for Congress to pay for armed police officers in every American school.

"I support safety in our schools; however, no armed guard could have prevented the Newtown incident," Holliday said, referring to last week's shootings at Sandy Hook Elementary School in Newtown, Conn.

"The culture of violence within our society makes movie theaters, churches, post offices, schools and college primate targets for mass shootings," Holliday said a statement responding to the plan unveiled Friday by NRA Executive Vice President Wayne LaPierre.

"The only way to deal with this issue is to address the many facets that create a culture of violence," Holliday said. "We must address gun control, mental health, violence in media including movies and video games, and other related issues in order to combat the culture of violence."

Holliday said he supports continued funding for school resource officers, who serve in many Kentucky schools, and he hopes for increased funding that would allow more officers.

Meanwhile, Fayette County Schools Superintendent Tom Shelton said he would welcome federal funding to provide guards in schools, if Washington lets districts develop security programs to meet their particular needs.

"I'd just ask that they don't build the model and say that everybody has to follow the same model," he said. "I would prefer that they provide the funding so people could look at what model fits their community best."

The Fayette school district has its own in-house police force, with 28 sworn officers who have full police powers on school property. The school district's officers are armed.

Many other Kentucky districts have school resource officers, who typically are sworn officers of the local police department assigned to work in the schools. Their duties mainly involve breaking up fights or helping calming tense situations, rather that directly acting as guards.

Shelton said the Fayette schools can't afford an officer to cover each of its 63 buildings, plus special programs that operate in auxiliary buildings.

"Our model works really well," he said. "So if they would provide additional funding so we could expand our model, that would be great."

Wilson Sears, executive director of the Kentucky Association of School Superintendents, said most superintendents probably would not oppose having a police officer in every school.

"Many schools already have them in the form of school resource officers," Sears said. "So, the idea of having a uniformed officer in a school is not uncommon."

Sears said he has more reservations about other ideas that have been floated since the Sandy Hook incident, such as arming principals or teachers. "We don't have Firearms 101 in teacher or principal-prep programs," he said.

Sears said that if a principal were issued a gun, it probably would have to be kept in an office under lock and key. He noted, however, that principals usually spend most of their workdays visiting classrooms or other distant parts of the school building, and they might be far from the locked gun when trouble broke out.

Jim Warren: (859) 231-3255.

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