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Some parents think armed staff is school safety solution

By Kim Walter

QUICKSBURG -- While tempers didn't flare as they did during the first school safety forum in Strasburg last week, several parents took a stand supporting armed staff at North Fork Middle School on Tuesday night.

Close to 100 community members and parents showed up for the second school safety forum. Superintendent B. Keith Rowland and Sheriff Timothy C. Carter gave similar presentations to the ones given last week, highlighting the current school resource officer situation, what could be done immediately to improve school safety and what it would take to make the changes happen.

Several members of the Shenandoah County Board of Supervisors were in attendance, along with School Board members, representatives of the Sheriff's Office and local police department and commonwealth's attorney Amanda Wiseley.

"Everyone here knows what happened in Connecticut, but because one of our schools shares the same name, the shooting has taken on a whole new meaning here," Rowland said.

Rowland offered suggestions for how to secure exterior entrances at all three of the southern campus' schools, but he also touched on how to keep children safe once they're inside a building.

Architectural changes were presented, which would add a video and intercom system to the front entrance of each school. One set of doors would remain unlocked during school hours, and visitors would have to go through a security check before entering the interior of the school.

Surveillance cameras, metal detectors and additional permanent school resource officers were also brought up, but Rowland reminded the audience that all the extra measures would require funding that isn't currently available.

"Tonight, I want you to decide how you want your schools to look, and what your priorities are when it comes to security," Rowland said. "As a tax paying citizen, you have to then be willing to tell your local representatives what you want."

Gary Morris Jr. of Mt. Jackson explained that he had a background in security, and felt that several initiatives brought up during the presentation would be "a waste."

"I think the solution is more armed officers in every school ... I'm talking two or three per building," he said. "If you have a couple guys with guns, then the cowards won't come in. That's what these people are that do the school shootings ... cowards."

Morris said he has a concealed carry permit, and knew that others at the forum did as well.

Rowland made it clear that even if someone possesses a permit, guns were not allowed on school property. Wisely supported his statement.

"If you have a conceal carry permit, you may possess a gun, but the law does not permit anyone to bring a firearm into the school unless said person is in law enforcement," she said. "I believe the governor is establishing a task force to look at arming teachers or administrators, but for now, it's illegal.

Rowland said he did not support arming school staff, to which an audience member shouted, "You should, absolutely should support that!"

"I am all for teachers having a firearm, so long as they have a little training and it can be done in a safe way," Morris said. "I'm not saying we should force a teacher ... it should be voluntary."

Another parent agreed, and said, "Why would I trust a teacher with my kid if I can't trust them with a gun?"

"You've got to have someone to shoot back," said another parent.

Rowland said if legislation on the topic passed in the General Assembly, Shenandoah County would "abide."

"My degree is not in school safety," Rowland said. "I know my limitations, but I also know what your expectations are, and you expect me to come up with some answers."

Attendees were again urged to contact local board members as well as their local congressman and senator.

"With the interest that school safety is generating lately, I think we'll see some money trickle down to support some of these security changes," Rowland said. "But, like anything in government, it will take some time."

The power point presentation given at the first school safety forum is available on the Shenandoah County Public Schools website: shenandoah.k12.va.us.


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