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School officials split on whether teachers should be armed, but think districts should decide

September 30, 2018

School officials who testified before a legislative committee Friday were divided about whether teachers and administrators should be armed as a way to protect students, though most believed it should be up to districts — not the state — to decide.

Logan Lightfoot, the new superintendent in the Anselmo-Merna School District in central Nebraska, said he thinks it is a grave mistake and would not make schools safer.

“I couldn’t be more emphatic in my opposition to the idea that we would introduce more guns in our schools with an idea of protecting our children,” he said.

He said he wouldn’t want teachers to have to decide whether to be armed.

“What worries me to the core if we did something like this is we’d put the onus back on those teachers and support staff members to make a very crucial decision,” he said.

“I have a second-grade teacher who does great things with her students. I don’t want to have to ask that second-grade teacher to make sure her Beretta is properly loaded and concealed when she goes to get her milk every day at 10 a.m. for her kids.”

Madison Public Schools Superintendent Alan Ehlers said his district has discussed the idea of arming school staff and while he doesn’t know whether it would decide to do so, it should have the option.

Hiring school resource officers is too expensive and it’s getting harder to convince people to go into education because of concerns over school safety, he said.

He and others also said it can take law enforcement a significant amount of time — up to 30 minutes — to get to some rural schools.

“I believe the safety of our staff and students should be a top priority in the state of Nebraska,” he said, and he supports allowing local school officials to decide based on their location and needs of the district.

Their testimony was part of an interim legislative study on the issue of granting local school boards the authority to allow school employees to carry concealed weapons on school grounds.

Sen. Steve Halloran of Hastings, who introduced the resolution for the study, said he’s “pretty serious” about sponsoring a bill next session that would leave it to districts to decide. Staff would have to volunteer to be armed and would have to undergo training and background checks.

He and Omaha Sen. Ernie Chambers sparred during the hearing, with Chambers at one point calling the proposal “insanity” and questioning whether rural schools would be targets of mass shooters, who he said typically want to kill as many people as possible.

Colby Coash, a former senator now representing the Nebraska Association of School Boards, said a survey of the organization’s members showed 21 percent of those who responded supported giving school boards authority to arm school staff, while 72 percent opposed the idea. Nearly all thought it should be a local decision, not a mandate from the state, he said.

He noted that 16 states permit such authorization and it’s used very rarely, mostly because of concerns of liability. In Georgia, no school districts have taken advantage of the authority to arm school staff in the two years since the law was enacted, he said.

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