State Board of Education discusses arming teachers, other school security issues

? A member of the Kansas State Board of Education said Monday that he favors allowing certain employees in public schools, including teachers, to carry firearms to prevent the kind of mass shooting that occurred Feb. 14 at a high school in Parkland, Fla.

“The fact is, no matter how well trained and how proficient the sheriff’s office is, or police officers are, that the time between (when) a shooter gets into a school and the time that (law enforcement) can get there, a lot of damage can occur and a lot of students’ lives, or teachers’ lives, can be taken,” board member Ken Willard, a Hutchinson Republican, said during the board’s monthly meeting Tuesday.

Willard’s comment came during a wide-ranging discussion by the board about school safety issues in general, and a package of proposals that Kansas House Republicans introduced recently that are now contained in House Bill 2773.

Although that bill does not specifically call for allowing teachers to carry firearms, President Donald Trump proposed such a measure Sunday as part of a package of federal legislation to address school safety.

Other members of the board, though, were less enthused about arming teachers.

“I do want to put it on the record for myself, I am opposed to teachers carrying guns, completely opposed, because frankly I think they’ve got enough on their plate,” said board member Janet Waugh, a Kansas City, Kan., Democrat. “We have so much trauma going on. They’re having to teach so many things other than what they were trained to teach. So I certainly am totally opposed to that.”

Board member Kathy Busch, a Wichita Republican, echoed that statement.

“Personally, having worked many, many years in a school, I would not have wanted to be armed,” she said. “Quite frankly, as a building principal, I wouldn’t have wanted my teachers to be armed.”

The bill now pending in the Kansas House would provide $5 million for the State Department of Education to administer as grants to local school districts to help them pay for building safety enhancements.

It also calls on the board to establish uniform standards for building safety, including procedures for inspecting buildings, training employees on how to notify people outside the building about an emergency and how to stay in communication with law enforcement, and procedures for securing a building during an emergency.

Education Commissioner Randy Watson said the state had a program for doing just that, until 2014 when federal grant funds that were paying for it expired.

He said he has been working with lawmakers to revive what was known as the Center for Safe and Prepared Schools and to house it in the Department of Education.

That program also involved officials from the Kansas Adjutant General’s office and the Kansas Attorney General’s office, Watson said.

He said if that program is revived, it would conduct school building surveys and consult with local administrators about how to bring buildings up to new safety standards.