Tuesday, Dec. 31, 2013 • Law enforcement speaks out against guns on LHS campus

A committee will be formed to explore teachers who are concealed weapon permit holders to carry guns at Lassen High School. In addition, the committee will also be tasked with helping find money to fund a law enforcement officer on campus.

Both issues were agendized for discussion during the Lassen Union High District Board of Trustees’ Dec. 10 meeting. Susanville Police Chief Tom Downing and Lassen County Sheriff Dean Growdon were in attendance to discuss the issue and answer questions.

During a Tuesday, Dec. 10 meeting of the Lassen Union High School District Board of Trustees, Susanville Police Chief Tom Downing explains his concerns about allowing teachers to carry guns on campus.

Downing expressed concern and opposition in allowing teachers to have guns on campus and encouraged the board to not make a decision that evening, but to further study the issue in an intellectual, not an emotional way.

He said, “I’m very concerned about that discussion of arming our school staff with firearms. I think that is a very ill-advised decision … I don’t think it’s prudent to do at this point. And I come here today to tell you that and to share with you my concerns about that as we consider moving forward on what would be the best plan for you and your school to make our children safer.”

Some concerns Downing shared was the level of training required for someone carrying a gun and having to use it in a use of force situation, the liability to the district, accidental discharge and the possibility of a student trying to take a teacher down.

But Downing said his biggest concern is the possibility of law enforcement officers being dispatched to an incident regarding a man or woman with a gun, and officers finding a person in the hallway pointing a gun at someone and in a split second decides to use lethal force, only to find out later it was a teacher with a firearm who had neutralized the situation.

“The response that it would be in our community and my law enforcement community and your staff, is to me, insurmountable and that’s a concern I have,” Downing said. “I’m very concerned about misidentification issues that could take place in that type of situation.”

Of seeking funding for an officer on campus, Downing said, “I think that’s the best option that you have before you tonight, is to try to find a way to fund a law enforcement position. Because by profession, their job is the safety of the students in the classroom.”

A teacher’s primary responsibility is to teach our students, their secondary responsibility is the safety of those children, according to Downing.

“I would prefer you left it in people’s responsibility who have the training and that’s their responsibility and that’s what they do day in and day out,” he said.

The discussion of allowing teachers with concealed weapon permits to carry guns on campus was put on the agenda by board trustee Dr. Hal Meadows after the school shooting at Sparks Middle School in October.

The board meeting also took place just prior to the one-year anniversary of the Sandy Hook Elementary School shooting. Downing pointed out there have been 16 school shootings since then.

“Unfortunately, it could be us next, and we need to be prepared and if my child was in that school, when that happened it would be a horrible situation. But even though my children are in school, I am adamantly opposed to teachers having guns on campus,” he said.

The Lassen County Sheriff’s Office issues concealed weapon permits, and according to Growdon, he has the right to set restrictions and the local permit prohibits carriers from taking guns on campus.

Board trustee Michelle Zubillaga asked Growdon, as a parent, what his feelings were about the issue.

Growdon said, “It’s tough, I’m real proactive in issuing concealed weapons permits. I want people to be able to protect themselves in our community. The hard part, when you’re talking about a school environment, that’s a tough one for me. That’s why we have that restriction on the reason concealed weapon permits …”

He explained it’s a different environment and the biggest concern he has is the different mindset.

Regarding law enforcement officers, Growdon said, “We’re constantly aware of the presence of our sidearm. A teacher, really, they’re supposed to be truly engaged with their students … I’m not ready to support that.”

Per section 626.9 (e) of the gun-free zone law, there is language that provides the superintendent or his or her designee to provide written permission for a person to carry a firearm in a school zone.

Downing said it is his understanding, but they would need a legal opinion, the only way a teacher can carry a firearm on campus is if the superintendent allows it and then the sheriff most likely has to remove the provision prohibiting concealed weapon permit carriers from having guns on campus.

“Otherwise, I think it’s a moot point. I think you need both of those pieces of the puzzle. The sheriff could allow it, the school could still say no, the school could say yes, and the sheriff could still disallow it,” Downing said.

Growdon said he believed Downing was correct and it was a very convoluted issue. In the end, the district would be responsible for any action taken.

According to Growdon, the best bet is to continue the partnerships already in place with the Susanville Police Department, as well as the sheriff’s office.

In addition, Growdon said they have to continue to develop the relationship with the behavioral health department.

“I think that’s the key, too, is getting them involved and having law enforcement and behavioral health provide training to your teachers and try to educate them on what some of the danger signs are and things to look out for. That’s our best bet is early intervention, try to keep these things from getting into crisis level,” Growdon said.

School superintendent Roy Casey also expressed opposition in allowing teachers to have guns on campus.

“… I’ll just say, honestly, you may find a different superintendent and I’m not saying that in a negative way. I believe I’m educator first. I believe law enforcement is highly trained and even though there’s a lapse time, I believe that we can figure out other ways to help with that lapse time.”

He said, “I think its worthy of talking about. I think its worthy of us making decisions about school safety, but if you authorize me or someone to carry a gun on campus, then that’s overstepping the bounds of this educator.”

Meadows said, “Obviously for me having an armed officer on campus is the very best. He’s here all the time and has the ability, but I think I would still like for us to have a discussion, take the sheriff’s recommendations and explore it some and see if there’s a desire from the board … and I don’t want to force anything on any of us and if it’s a no, it’s a no …”

Board votes yes for officer on campus, no on armor white boards
As another measure to increase safety, the Lassen Union High School District Board of Trustees has taken a step to put a sworn peace officer on campus.

The board however, felt money would be best used for its ultimate goal of having an officer on school grounds and chose not to pursue purchasing Hardwire Bulletproof Whiteboard ® Shields for teachers.

In a 4-1 vote, the board approved forming a committee, which will find funding to have an officer on campus. The committee will also look at allowing teachers, who are concealed weapon permit holders, to bring guns on campus.

Board trustee Ken Theobald voted no and said he could not agree with arming teachers on campus.

According to superintendent Roy Casey, the cost for an officer on campus would be approximately $67,000 and it is not included in the budget.

“However, we will vow to work towards and seek funds to be able to have a position like that on campus. It is contingent upon available money,” he said.

One option being looked at is both the Susanville City Police Department and the Lassen County Sheriff’s Office pursuing grant money, according to Casey.

In a separate agenda item discussion, board member Dr. Hal Meadows made a motion to purchase the whiteboards for teachers who wanted them. The estimated cost would be a total of $15,000, as each board costs approximately $300. However, no one else made a second motion.

During its November meeting, the board watched a video showing how the whiteboards can stop a pistol round.

Meadows said, “I know that sheetrock walls cannot stop pistol rounds …”

He explained the boards could provide teachers a way to duck and cover and have some protection.

“It’s not a huge expense. It’s reasonable, I think it would give some teachers some comfort …” he said.

Board trustee Michelle Zubillaga told Meadows she could see where he was coming from and tended to agree with him.

“But my problem is, is that we’re also going to be looking for funds for an officer on campus, and if we decide to do this now we may be short changing ourselves for our ultimate goal of having that officer on campus. If we can come with $15,000 for that, why can’t we put that $15,000 off that bat towards that officer on campus …” she said.

Meadows said he agreed, but due to the locations of the facilities on campus, if there was a shooting in the 400 building and an officer was across the campus there is still, what he described as a moment in time, because the officer can’t be everywhere.

“I think there is a certain amount of physical protection, there’s also a certain element of emotional protection involved here that we’re doing something active, and I think that’s the reason that I’m pushing my motion” he said.

Board president Skip Jones made a point that teachers won’t have their white boards with them all the time, such as during school assemblies.

“We suddenly have all the students packed into the gym, I can’t imagine all the teachers are going to line up in front of the students with white boards and so to spend that $15,000 in that situation doesn’t make a whole lot of sense. I’d rather have an armed guard at the door,” he said. “I almost think the white boards are a false sense of security because they are only going to work in very limited situations and they’re not really there to protect the kids.”

Jones said he was hesitant to spend that kind of money.

Meadows talked about reports the principal at Sandy Hook Elementary School and Sparks Middle School attempted to stop the shooters.

“I think that’s the instinct of our professionals to protect their kids, that’s where I’m coming from,” Meadows said.