BLUE RIDGE, Ga. – The Fannin County School System officially became the second county in the state of Georgia to adopt a policy giving the option of arming school personnel. In April, the Laurens County school board in Georgia adopted a similar policy.
The unanimous decision by the Fannin County Board of Education (BOE) is one that board members said they did not take lightly and that much thought and planning was involved in the policy of Possession of Weapons by Employees or GAMB.
“We have given careful consideration to as many aspects of this as we possibly can,” board member Terry Bramlett stated during closing thoughts.
This decision by the BOE was not met without opposition as the Fannin County Board of Education facility was filled to capacity Thursday night.
Board members listened to several speakers from the community. Ten citizens in all signed up to have their voices heard during public commentary.
“It’s madness. That the way you solve a problem is to kill somebody,” Brent Warberg, a former Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI) profiler and hostage negotiator, said, showing his passion for his stance. “If you arm a teacher and that teacher shoots somebody, you own it.”
Warberg’s feelings were shared by others during public commentary. Dr. Kyle Raque, a clinical psychologist, cited that there is no evidence that arming school personnel works to provide a safer environment.
Mother of two, Michele Bradley, shared her thoughts: “Are you prepared to be sued when one of these teachers innocently kills a child?”
Most who spoke in opposition of the newly adopted policy offered other solutions to the issue of safety on school campuses. Among the solutions discussed were those of addressing mental health of not just students, but of faculty as well, and trying to intervene at a young age when a child first shows signs of mental illness.
As many spoke in opposition, just as many spoke in favor of the GAMB policy. The public commentary portion of the meeting was split evenly between the two sides.
“As a former resource officer, I can tell you that evil is at the front door,” Jack Taylor, chairman of Blue Ridge Patriot Friends of the National Rifle Association (NRA) addressed the board, “and it’s knocking.”
“I commend you all for having the guts to do this,” Taylor added.
Retired educator and NRA certified pistol instructor Sheila Gooch also spoke in favor of GAMB: “We need options. We need to look at what we can do to protect our children.”
Before board members placed their vote, Fannin County Superintendent Dr. Michael Gwatney reiterated his views that he had expressed during the April BOE meeting when the GAMB policy was first read.
“There is no higher purpose of our school system than to provide a safe and secure environment for our students, faculty and staff,” Gwatney said, explaining his position on adopting the policy.
“As a professional educator, I will be the first to say that simply increasing the number of weapons already legally on our campuses is not, at least in of itself, the answer,” Gwatney said, acknowledging that the issues faced when dealing with violence is multifaceted and other aspects such as mental health need also be addressed.
It was clear by Gwatney’s speech that his biggest concern when it comes to setting policy for the safety of Fannin County schools is the mistake of taking no action at all.
He concluded his thoughts by sharing a quote from John F. Kennedy: “There are risks and costs to action. But are far less than the long-range risks of comfortable inaction.”
After fully reading the policy for a second time and with tension high in the room, the BOE unanimously passed GAMB. Many present in opposition of the policy stormed out of the building upon its passing.
The new Possession of Weapons by Employees policy (GAMB) states that “the Board of Education may authorize certain personnel to possess or carry weapons on any property or in any building owned or leased by the District, at a school function, or on a bus or other transportation furnished by the District.”
Those approved to carry weapons on school property must meet and adhere to certain criteria, the first of which being that proper training and review of skill must be approved in advance by the superintendent and the Fannin County Sheriff’s Office.
Continued evaluation will also be required upon approval: “To receive and subsequently maintain authorization, all approved personnel shall regularly qualify to the standard required by the Fannin County Sheriff for each type of weapon authorized.”
Types and quantities of weapons and ammunition each individual will be allowed to possess will be approved and monitored by the Fannin County Sheriff’s Office and the superintendent.
Personnel will not be required to carry arms, and the program will be carried out on a volunteer basis. Furthermore, the new legislation states, “The final appointment will be made by the Superintendent consistent with the requirements of this policy. Each employee appointed must be licensed under the laws of the state to carry a firearm and shall be subject to an annual criminal history background check. Approval will not be granted for any employee who has had an employment or other history indicating any type of mental or emotional instability as determined by the Board or Superintendent. The Superintendent shall be able at any time to remove or suspend the authority granted to any employee under this policy.”
Specific guidelines were also laid out in the new policy for proper carrying and storage of weapons.
Fannin County Sheriff Dane Kirby expressed his opinion of the policy at the previous BOE meeting held in April: “I support it 100 percent. I think that drastic acts require drastic responses.”
Kirby went on to say, “I’m very thankful that the board and the superintendent were willing to step out into these waters. I think it was done right.”
Fannin County Assistant Superintendent Benny Long pointed out that this policy is a foundation from which the school system can build: “At this given time, it is still in the very formative stages. There are lots of questions, I think, that all of us have but we are working on developing this process.”
If the board chooses to put this policy into practice, the personnel approved would remain confidential. Gwatney previously explained, “By pursuing a policy, the Board of Education intends to reserve the option to take action that is permitted by state law; whether and/or how the Board chooses to implement the policy, if approved, is a confidential matter.”
“This is just one more option, one more tool, that we could use to keep our schools safe,” Gwatney said, explaining that by adopting the policy it simply just gives the school board that option to possibly take. “The policy in and of itself could act as a deterrent to someone wishing to do harm.”
Policy Possession of Weapons by Employees (Descriptor Code: GAMB):
The Board of Education is committed to maintaining a safe and secure working and learning environment. Unless authorized by the Board of Education or an administrator in accordance with this policy, or specifically authorized by state law, employees shall be prohibited from bringing weapons on any property or in any building owned or leased by the District, at school functions, and on school buses or other transportation furnished by the School District. Employees in violation of this policy shall be subject to disciplinary action, up to and including termination of employment.
Pursuant to O.C.G.A. § 16-11-130.1, the Board of Education may authorize certain personnel to possess or carry weapons on any property or in any building owned or leased by the District, at a school function, or on a bus or other transportation furnished by the District, subject to the following conditions:
1. Training of approved personnel shall occur prior to their authorization to carry weapons. The training shall be approved in advance by the Superintendent and Fannin County Sheriff and shall, at a minimum, include training on judgment pistol and long gun shooting, marksmanship, and a review of current laws relating to the use of force for the defense of self or others. The Superintendent, with the approval of the Fannin County Sheriff, may substitute for certain training requirements an individual’s prior military or law enforcement service if he or she has previously served as a certified law enforcement officer or has had military service which involved similar weapons training. To receive and subsequently maintain authorization, all approved personnel shall regularly qualify to the standard required by the Fannin County Sheriff for each type of weapon authorized.
2. An approved list of the types and quantity of weapons and ammunition each approved individual is authorized to possess or carry shall be prepared and maintained by the Superintendent and shall be approved by the Fannin County Sheriff;
3. Selection of personnel to possess or carry a weapon shall be done strictly on a voluntary basis.The final appointment will be made by the Superintendent consistent with the requirements of this policy. Each employee appointed must be licensed under the laws of the state to carry a firearm and shall be subject to an annual criminal history background check. Approval will not be granted for any employee who has had an employment or other history indicating any type of mental or emotional instability as determined by the Board or Superintendent. The Superintendent shall be able at any time to remove or suspend the authority granted to any employee under this policy; and
4. Weapons possessed or carried by personnel under this paragraph shall be secured as follows: Concealed weapons are permitted if they are carried in a holster and not in a purse, briefcase, bag, or similar other accessory which is not secured on the body. If maintained separate from the body, the weapon shall be maintained in a secured lock safe or similar lock box that cannot be easily accessed by students.
In addition to those employees appointed pursuant to this policy, the Board recognizes that other exceptions exist under O.C.G.A. §16-11-127.1. All records regarding the appointment of individual employees and the implementation of this program shall be exempt from production under the Open Records Act as specified in Georgia law.
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