Politics & Government

Arming principals and teachers a bad idea, experts say

State Rep. Richard Henderson, D-Jeffersonville, is head of a new legislative subcommittee on school safety issues.
State Rep. Richard Henderson, D-Jeffersonville, is head of a new legislative subcommittee on school safety issues.

FRANKFORT — Giving guns to teachers and principals to prevent school shootings is not a good idea, a bevy of school safety experts, retired police officers and teachers told a special legislative committee Thursday.

Instead, Kentucky should consider putting trained police and more school resource officers in its 1,245 schools, they told the committee.

House Speaker Greg Stumbo, D-Prestonsburg, announced the creation of the subcommittee on school safety issues Thursday morning, one day after President Barack Obama announced sweeping proposals to overhaul the country's gun laws and Republican U.S. Sen. Rand Paul proposed the idea of arming some principals and teachers.

The legislative panel, which was created in the wake of last month's school shooting that left 20 first-graders and six educators dead in Newtown, Conn., held its first meeting Thursday afternoon. State Rep. Richard Henderson, who is chairman of the new subcommittee, has filed legislation to make the subcommittee permanent.

Henderson, D-Jeffersonville, said Thursday the committee will study safety measures already in place and figure out ways to improve those standards statewide.

"We are not here to push a certain agenda," he said.

Mark Filburn, a retired Louisville Metro Police officer, and Alex Payne, a retired Kentucky State Police sergeant, told the committee that many schools are not taking basic precautions to protect students, such as locking all outside doors.

Some do lock their doors, Filburn said, but "others are wide open."

Schools should have video surveillance on the outside of their buildings and in parking lots so they can monitor people before they are granted entrance to a building, he said.

Filburn and Payne also said teachers and principals should not be armed because they are not trained law enforcement. They recommended placing police officers or retired police officers for every school building.

Republican Rep. Bam Carney of Campbellsville, who is a teacher, said arming school staffers is "a bad idea."

Democratic Rep. Derrick Graham of Frankfort, a retired teacher, agreed.

"It's not their responsibility," Graham said of educators.

Plus, kids are curious and it's likely that kids — particularly young kids — will find the gun, he said.

Jon Akers, director of the Kentucky Center for School Safety, offered low- or no-cost steps schools can take to improve safety. Some of those recommendations include requiring schools to have safety plans that are reviewed annually by police and fire officials, practicing lockdown drills with police and fire officials present, increasing the frequency of those drills, locking all outside doors and having all visitors check in at the front office.

Akers said districts should also think about not holding meetings for principals at a central office during the school day. If the principal is away from the school and something happens, there is often no one there to direct safety efforts, Akers said.

Carney said some of Akers' recommendations — such as requiring schools to update emergency plans every year — could be part of an administrator's annual evaluation.

"We need to put some teeth to these recommendations," Carney said.

Akers said too few school districts have a school resource officer, a police officer whose main duty is to protect the schools. Only 241 Kentucky schools, or 19 percent, have a trained officer, he said.

Although school resource officers can be paid for by the school system or local governments, many rural communities can not afford one, Henderson said.