Georgia’s second-largest school district approved a policy on Thursday that allows non-certified police officers to carry guns in schools, but excludes teachers from those who can be armed.
Cobb County’s school board split 4-2 along partisan lines, with opponents, including gun control activists, yelling “Delay the vote!” and “Shame!”
A state law passed in 2014 allowed Georgia schools to arm teachers and other personnel. Following the Parkland, Florida, school shooting in 2018, a handful of Georgia’s 180 school districts, all with much lower enrollments, approved policies to arm non-officers on campus. The decision in the 106,000-student Cobb school district, one of the nation’s 25 largest, is a direct response to last May’s school shooting in Uvalde, Texas, which killed 19 students and two teachers.
Cobb County Superintendent Chris Ragsdale told board members prior to the vote that the district currently has 67 officers for its 114 schools and that hiring police officers is difficult.
“I couldn’t do it if the board handed me a blank check and told me to go hire a school resource officer for every school in Cobb County.” “Ragsdale explained.
Originally, the policy would have allowed teachers to carry weapons if they had “unique qualifications.” “However, Ragsdale removed that portion of the proposal. Teachers would not be allowed to carry guns.
“I am not in favor of arming teachers. However I am in favor of investigating all options so we could hire retired military, retired law enforcement,” Ragsdale said.
Ragsdale contemplated hiring such individuals and paying them less than certified police officers. However, it was unclear whether the district intends for everyone authorized to carry a gun to be a full-time security employee, or whether the district may also authorize employees who have primary responsibilities other than security.
The policy requires that people be trained, and Ragsdale promised that they would receive similar training to certified school resource officers. He also stated that a psychological evaluation would be conducted, and that school district Police Chief Ron Storey would have the final say on approvals. According to state law, no employee can be fired for refusing to carry a gun. Their names and all other information would be kept private.
“On a need-to-know basis,” Ragsdale explained, “everyone who needs to know who these individuals are will know who they are.”
Guns would have to be hidden on the person or kept in a locked safe.
Opponents, however, were unconvinced. Cobb’s school board is evenly divided, with four white Republicans and three Black Democrats on the board. Jaha Howard, one of those Democrats, stated that there was no proof that the plan would work.
“I have yet to see any data or evidence that more gun-toting professionals will make our kids or staff safer,” Howard said. He later attempted to postpone the vote until the board’s meeting in late August. Cobb County schools begin on August 1.
Alisha Thomas Searcy, the Democratic nominee for state superintendent of schools who defeated Howard and others in November, echoed Howard’s criticism. She stated that anyone other than certified police officers should not be armed in schools.
“The last thing I want to think about as a parent is more guns at my daughter’s school or any other type of school,” she said during a public comment period. “I certainly agree that more caring adults are needed in our school, but not ones who carry guns and aren’t police officers.”
Charles Cole, an opponent, claimed that the policy was poorly written.
“I think it’s dangerous, rash and vastly, wrongly open-ended. ‘Let’s get more guns in schools and we might add some specifics later,’ is not the way we should operate,” Cole said, adding “our children deserve more forethought.”
Those opponents began chanting “Delay the vote!” and prompted a board recess. When the board returned, the four Republicans rejected Howard’s proposed delay and pushed through the measure even as chanting continued.