JASPER, Tenn. — With school safety a top priority around the country, one Marion County commissioner said he's interested in the idea of arming teachers.
At the end of the board's February meeting, Commissioner Joey Blevins said he wasn't sure how to approach the subject but asked County Attorney Billy Gouger what statutes already exist regarding what county leaders could do to prevent "hostile activities at school."
Blevins said he wanted "to see what's appropriate for [or] if possibly we could have some of our teachers or faculty armed."
Gouger said weapons on a school campus is a touchy subject, especially since the most recent tragedy in Florida, but the state legislature has addressed the issue of firearms or other weapons on school property.
"Generally, firearms, particularly, are prohibited except under certain specific circumstances," he said.
The "most prevalent" statute is Tennessee Code Annotated 49-6-815, which Gouger said is a 2013 exception to the general law that people aren't allowed to possess or carry firearms on school property.
The Schools Against Violence in Education, or SAVE Act, gives special permission for firearms to be possessed and carried on public school grounds.
Gouger said the first requirement for that is an individual to be employed by the local education agency as a faculty or staff member at the school or a person assigned to the school, such as a school resource officer, in accordance with a memorandum of understanding between the appropriate law enforcement agency and the local education agency.
"Even then, in order to carry or possess a firearm on school grounds, the individual must be authorized to possess and carry a firearm pursuant to [state law], which is the conceal-carry statute," he said.
That individual would also have to have written authorization from the director of schools for the LEA and the principal of the school.
"And the person either has to be a law enforcement officer or have prior service as a law enforcement officer to be in compliance with all laws, rules and regulations of peace officer standards and training," Gouger said.
Those individuals also must complete a 40-hour course in basic training on school policing, and that training must be approved by the LEA.
The cost of the training is the individual's responsibility, not the school system's, Gouger said.
"Those are the only parameters [regarding public schools] within which people on school grounds in Tennessee right now are allowed to be armed," he said.
Blevins said he did "a little research" and discovered there are more than 1,000 school districts in the U.S. that already allow armed teachers at school.
"They have faculty in their schools able to protect their students along with their SROs and local police forces," he said.
Blevins said he would be following up with Marion Schools Superintendent Mark Griffith and Marion Sheriff Ronnie "Bo" Burnett to "see if there's anybody that works out there [in the schools] that's qualified for this and see if they'd be willing to do it."
Several years ago, the board approved an SRO for each of the South Pittsburg, Whitwell and Jasper areas in the county, but those three officers cover multiple elementary, middle and high schools at the same time.
"Personally, I just want the community to know that I'm interested in [arming teachers], and I'm sure everybody else is," Blevins said.
Ryan Lewis is based in Marion County. Contact him at email@example.com.