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Local schools and sheriffs: Don't arm classrooms

Shenandoah County Sheriff's Sgt. Lonnie Sherfey walks outside Sandy Hook Elementary School in Strasburg on Wednesday. Area law enforcement have stepped up patrols on school grounds this week in wake of the school shootings at Newtown, Connecticut. Rich Cooley/Daily Rich Cooley/Daily

By Alex Bridges

Don't expect armed teachers in the region's school classrooms any time soon.

Officials for school districts in the Northern Shenandoah Valley responded Wednesday to the idea of allowing faculty and staff to have loaded firearms while at work.

Gov. Bob McDonnell on Tuesday did not outwardly endorse a measure that would let school personnel carry firearms, according to media reports. McDonnell, after Texas Gov. Rick Perry backed such an approach, instead warned against rejecting the idea and suggesting keeping it on the table.

"We'd have to understand what the whole thing is that the governor's asking for and what other components are involved in that," said Greg Drescher, assistant superintendent for instruction in Warren County Public Schools. "At this point in time we wouldn't be prepared to start arming our employees."

Shenandoah County schools Assistant Superintendent for Curriculum and Instruction Ebbie Linaburg said the district would likely wait for recommendations from any groups created to look into safety, security and whether or not faculty and staff should arm themselves.

"What I would want to do is hear what groups of experts say about this before I would want to commit to anything that involved weapons in schools," Linaburg said.

Linaburg expressed hope that groups such as the governor's task force on school safety look at all aspects of the issue before elected leaders make decisions .

"Everyone in the country is extremely concerned at this point and rightfully so, and I think it's very important though to make decisions based upon reasoned arguments, based upon knowledge, based upon facts, and then reaching decisions," Linaburg said. "It's very easy to become emotional at this point."

Frederick County public schools spokesman Steve Edwards stated by email the district could not yet comment.

"Based on media accounts, it's our understanding that the Governor has suggested a discussion be held on the merits of allowing school officials to carry firearms on campus," Edwards stated. "Without a proposal or plan being offered, we cannot comment because we have no specifics and haven't had the opportunity to consider possible implications for our schools."

Any decision to move in this direction locally would first require involvement by law enforcement, according to Drescher.

"We want to make decisions that are gonna keep our kids safe," Drescher said. "That's always what we have done and something that is very different than what we're currently doing ... we want to make sure we completely understand how it's gonna benefit our kids."

Shenandoah County Sheriff Timothy Carter also responded to the notion of armed teachers.

"My reaction to that would be that each school district is going to look at what their needs are," Carter said. "Certainly the state is going to have some input on what they can provide whether it be monetary assistance or assistance of another means. But I think it's going to be up to the communities that have to make those decisions, whether they be physical changes to buildings or whether they be staff changes."

Warren County Sheriff Daniel McEathron didn't specifically express support for the notion of allowing school staff to arm themselves. He noted that speculation remains over whether anyone at the Connecticut school with a firearm could have taken action against the shooter.

"There's a lot of debate to be sparked about it but in the world in which we live in I think everything needs to be looked at in how can we best protect our kids," McEathron said.

Armed law enforcement officers already monitor most schools in the region. Shenandoah County has two officers assigned to each of its three school campuses. The sixth officer begins work at the southern campus soon after graduation. But Carter said he has asked the Board of Supervisors to revisit an earlier request for more SROs.

Warren County Sheriff's Office has deputies assigned to the two high schools, the middle school and one that monitors the elementary schools.

"Obviously law enforcement can't be everywhere all the time," McEathron said.

Contact staff writer Alex Bridges at 540-465-5137 ext. 125, or abridges@nvdaily.com


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