published Sunday, February 10th, 2013

Cleveland schools against guns for teachers

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    Dr. Martin Ringstaff, director of Cleveland City Schools

CLEVELAND, Tenn. — Cleveland City Schools will not tolerate firearms on school grounds, with the exception of law officers.

In a 7-0 vote, the Cleveland Board of Education recently passed a measure limiting firearms to each campus' school resource officer, who is provided by Cleveland police. The resolution received a clear endorsement from Dr. Martin Ringstaff, director of the city school system.

"There's lots of discussions about teachers carrying weapons -- I've been a little outspoken on that and will continue to be, and I know our board feels the same way," Ringstaff said. "We don't think that's a great idea that anybody besides the school resource officer carry a weapon in the school."

In January, several board members said they doubted that training a teacher to carry and use firearms in a school could surpass the training and experience of the police officers assigned to resource officer duty.

All city school resource officers have at least five years of experience, and many have served for more than 10 years, police Chief Wes Snyder said. All of the officers had crisis handling and hostage negotiation training, he said.

The school board's reinforcement of current state regulations prohibiting firearms on school grounds comes at a time when proposed state legislation seeks to allow eligible members of school staffs and faculties to carry weapons on their own campuses.

House Bill 0504, sponsored by state Rep. Eric Watson, R-Cleveland -- and its counterpart, Senate Bill 0472, sponsored by Sen. Frank Nicely, R-Strawberry Plains -- propose to allow teachers to carry firearms if "subject to the training and screening requirements for school resource officers." According to Tennessee's Annotated Code, that means 40 hours of school policing training and 16 hours annual training thereafter.

Both bills are under review by legislative education committees and could be amended.

The legislation is intended to shore up limitations of assigning one school resource officer to each campus, Watson said in a news release. Such limitations include the absence of a school resource officer because of illness or having to respond to a call. Since schools cannot hire security guards, qualified armed faculty can help fill the gap, he said.

Some Bradley County Schools officials have expressed interest in such legislation.

"It would be interesting to see the Legislature look at a way of providing for people who are competently trained and go through continuous updates just like our deputies," said Johnny McDaniel, director of Bradley schools, in a December meeting with county commissioners. "I'll certainly be in favor of looking at that."

McDaniel also said that Bradley Central High School Principal Todd Shoemaker, a former law officer, had told him he would like to be able to carry a weapon so he could better protect that school.

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