State

Kentucky county wants to arm teachers. Here’s how that already happens in some states.

Citizens gathered at a town hall meeting at Pike County Central High School on Monday to discuss whether school staff should carry concealed firearms.
Citizens gathered at a town hall meeting at Pike County Central High School on Monday to discuss whether school staff should carry concealed firearms. wwright@herald-leader.com

More than 1,000 miles to the southwest of Pikeville is the town of Agua Dulce, Texas, where teachers and school staff have been carrying concealed guns for about a year.

The program there is similar to one given preliminary approval by the Pike County Board of Education earlier this week, and is just one of possibly hundreds of schools around the country that already allow teachers to carry guns.

In Texas, 172 school districts allow teachers to carry concealed weapons, and a report by the Education Commission of the States shows that 10 states already have laws allowing teachers to carry firearms, though the details vary by state.

“It’s not right for every school, I don’t know that every school needs it, but it was right for us,” said Wayne Kelly, superintendent of the Agua Dulce school district in Texas.

It took the Texas town about a year to discuss exactly how the program would work, Kelly said, and then more time to find, train and interview candidates.

Under Agua Dulce’s program, volunteers go through a three- to four-hour mental evaluation, a background check, and an 80-hour, week-long training course that has one purpose: “How does one person go into a building and take out an active shooter,” Kelly said.

Pike County Public Schools will be the first in Kentucky to arm some staff if its plan gets final approval from the school board, but specifics of how the program would work are still being hammered out.

School officials have said the program will require candidates to go through firearm training conducted by the Pike County Sheriff’s Office and a mental evaluation, background check and drug test.

Some schools in other states have drafted similar plans, but were unable to implement them.

In Kansas, efforts to arm teachers in 2013 were halted when EMC Insurance Company, which insures most public schools in Kansas, said it would not offer or renew policies with schools that allow armed employees on campus.

“The more guns in schools you have the more risk you have,” said Wayne Young, executive director of the Kentucky Association of School Administrators. “It’s not necessarily a step forward to have untrained, nonprofessional individuals in a school with a weapon.”

Young said he thinks insurance companies will be reluctant to insure Kentucky schools that implement any concealed weapons program, or will at least raise rates significantly.

“It creates just a far higher potential for risk and for harm,” he said.

The biggest risk from the viewpoint of insurance companies is a gun accidentally going off in a classroom, said Michael Barry, senior vice president of the Insurance Information Institute, which provides education for insurance companies, consumers and media.

Barry said most insurance companies would consider a concealed weapons program an increased risk and would likely raise rates.

“Risk management specialists are going to be asking the school districts a lot of questions,” Barry said.

Kentucky is one of seven states considering laws that would make it easier for districts to allow guns on school grounds, according to the Education Commission of the States.

State Sen. John Schickel, R- Union, has introduced Senate Resolution 172, which would urge boards of education to allow teachers and other school personnel to carry firearms for their own protection.

According to state education officials, school boards have the authority to contract with someone, including a teacher or other school staff, to allow them to carry firearms on school grounds, under current federal and state law.

Another proposal, Senate Bill 103, would allow public and private schools in Kentucky that cannot afford to hire a sworn law-enforcement officer, or resource officer, to designate one of their employees as an armed “school marshal.”

Given budget constraints, there are only 230 resource officers in roughly half of Kentucky’s counties, according to the Kentucky Center for School Safety.

Officials in Pike County said it would cost more than $1 million a year to hire law enforcement to patrol its schools.

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Pike County citizens gathered at a town hall meeting at Pike County Central High School on Monday to discuss whether school staff should carry concealed firearms. Will Wright wwright@herald-leader.com

Kelly, the superintendent in Texas, said insurance rates for his school district stayed the same despite its program allowing concealed weapons, and said the state pays for firearms training sessions through a grant.

“I don’t know what the financial situation is like in Kentucky … but you know, none of us have any money,” Kelly said.

A tight budget was one reason the district decided to arm staff rather than hire law enforcement, he said.

Pike County School Board Chairman Justin Maynard said it is too early to know what the insurance implications will be in Pike County, but that officials should have a better idea in the coming weeks as the formal proposal comes together.

“Our attorney right now is going to work through that,” Maynard said.

In Texas and Pike County, both school districts have the same motivations for creating the programs: “Lessen the loss of life,” Kelly said.

“Once that shooter’s engaged, they quit focusing on children and they focus on the one who’s shooting at them,” Kelly said. “We’ve now become a hard target instead of a soft target.”

Will Wright is a corps member with Report for America, an initiative of The GroundTruth Project. Reach him at 859-270-9760, @​HLWright

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