Area Schools Question Plan To Use Funds To Buy Guns

P-J file photo

After reports surfaced that Betsy DeVos, U.S. education secretary, was considering proposing a grant program that would fund school districts with the means to purchase firearms and firearm training for teachers, several Chautauqua County school district superintendents responded with concerns and opposition.

“No guns on school grounds unless you are a resource officer,” said Bret Apthorpe, superintendent of Jamestown Public Schools. “I can’t see any reason ever for any teacher to have a gun in school.”

Apthorpe said the conversation isn’t relevant in the in areas where school campuses are closed and contained unlike the open campuses without hallways in more southern states.

“Our schools are locked up solid,” Apthorpe said.

Additionally, Jamestown employs several trained school resource officers in the district.

“I just don’t think it’s relevant,” he said about potentially arming teachers in Jamestown. “I don’t think it pertains to the northeast because our buildings are locked up tight.”

The reports of the potential funding prompted Gov. Andrew Cuomo to send out a letter addressed to MaryEllen Elia, commissioner of education.

“New York cannot and will not be party to this insanity,” Cuomo wrote. “I will do everything in my power to prevent guns from entering our classrooms. I write to you to ask that you join me in this fight and reject any attempt by the federal government to put guns in our schools.”

Cuomo later described the potential for a proposal that would arm students as “mind boggling” and “NRA approved.”

Following Cuomo’s release, Elia additionally released a statement denouncing the potential for such a program

The New York Times reported last week the potential program is called the Student Support and Academic Enrichment grants. Within it, mention of prohibited funding for arming schools with weapons is omitted, dissimilar from a safety bill Congress approved in March which contained language that prohibited the use of funds for firearms.

Panama Superintendent Bert Lictus expressed his concerns with federal funding for arming teachers.

“At first thought, ‘I have concerns about bringing weapons into a school,'” Lictus said. “For any steps that are taken, we need to give some serious thought to what the consequences would be.”

Lictus expressed that he favored hiring trained resource officers over arming teachers.

Panama Central School District currently does not employ an SRO. He said there is a big difference between a trained resource officer who is essentially a police officer, and a teacher with a gun.

“(Teachers) are not police officers,” he said.

Lictus said the “broad conversation” about school safety needs to address the mental health side of the issue. “It needs to be a more holistic approach,” Lictus said of the school safety conversation. “If not, it’s just a bandaid.”

Chautauqua County Sheriff Joe Gerace, a member of the New York State Sheriff’s Association, said he still favors using federal money for SRO placement in all schools.

“I think every school should have a school resource officer,” he said. “If a school chooses to arm teachers, our biggest thing would be training.”

Gerace said his office has “worked really hard” to perform evaluations with local schools regarding security systems and coordination between school officials and deputies. “Training is huge,” Gerace said, noting that in the event of an emergency, officers and schools must be on the same page. “The first officer on scene has to know what’s going on. It’s always chaotic.”