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There’s a debate brewing in south central Missouri regarding a rural school district’s decision to allow employees to carry a concealed weapon if they’ve successfully completed 40 hours of training. As KSMU’s Rebekah Clark reports, parents of some of the students in the Fairview School District near West Plains didn’t know about the new rule until it appeared in the local paper.
Gun regulation is a hot political issue in the United States right now, especially in lieu of recent school shootings like the one at Sandy Hook Elementary School. That shooting left 26 people dead, 20 of them students.
In reaction to this event, the Fairview School District recently decided that employees could carry concealed weapons during school hours. If an employee chooses to do so, they must complete 40 hours of training before they are permitted to bring the concealed weapon onto school property. The identity of the employee carrying the concealed weapon is not disclosed, under the federal Safe Schools Act.
According to a press release from the firearms training program Shield Solutions, several employees from the district are now “able to carry concealed firearms while on the job for the protection of the school’s students” and staff. The release says that trainees underwent extensive background and drug testing, as well as psychological examinations.
Long-time educator Cindy Wright was among the seven school board members to unanimously vote in favor of the policy change. She says she hopes and prays no trained employee will ever have to use a weapon in or around the school, but she thinks it’s important to be prepared for the worst-case scenario.
“Our school district is about seven miles out K Highway. The soonest any law enforcement could get to us, if called, would be ten minutes. I mean, that is the absolute soonest. In ten minutes, a lot of things could go wrong. We have really trained these individuals. They’ve got more training than your average concealed carry,” Wright says.
One issue some parents have is that they weren’t notified of the board’s decision to approve the firearm training until a few weeks after it was implemented. Shield sent out a press release after the employees completed their training to notify the media and parents. When asked why parents weren’t involved in the decision before it was implemented, Wright says the board wanted to keep everything as normal as possible.
“We just felt that this was the best thing to do, and we didn’t want to spark the controversy in the first place because we wanted to have these people well-trained and in place. These people have been in place for a couple of weeks now, and nobody has noticed anything different. We didn’t want it to be a big issue; we just wanted school to go on, and kids to keep on learning,” Wright said.
However, some parents say they didn’t hear about the policy change and are upset they found out through a local newspaper article printed in The Daily Quill on Thursday. People like Jessica Nease, a stay-at-home mom and new resident to the area, who up until this week planned to enroll her child into Fairview’s preschool program.
“If I had seen some sort of notification, I would have absolutely been there to express my concerns and to ask pointed questions about their policies, liability issues, safety concerns…all of those things. I would have felt much better knowing that my questions had been answered before the decision had been passed,” said Nease.
Nease now says she’s not going to put her child into the school system. Instead, she will be homeschooling.
“I’m even contemplating not staying in West Plains. If this is kind of the road people are going down, I just don’t feel like it’s a community that I want to stay in.”
Brian Martin is president of the Fairview School Board.
“We wanted to make sure the parents knew as the program was implemented. That’s why the press release was made,” Martin said.
Martin added that school security has been a topic discussed by the school board since September, and said that the meetings, by law, are open to the public. But Martin said very few parents attend the meetings.
KSMU: “Just so I have this clearly, they [parents] could have known all about this, is what you’re saying, if they had attended the meetings?”
Martin: “Well, of course there’s certain aspects of the program that are specific to school security that can never been released to the public. Those are items that… if you need explanation on that Shield Solutions would probably be the best avenue for that to explain that policy. But as far as discussing short security issues we have been discussing those.”
We reached out to Dan Wehmer, Shield’s executive vice president.
“In terms of notifying parents, I really can’t address that. I mean, I’m not a patron of the Fairview School District. What I can tell you is that, from our perspective, what’s private is first and foremost the identity of what we call, Select Employees. It’s imperative that their identities remain confidential. To that end, it’s not public who was trained, who we trained, and in essence, the nature of the type of training that was provided to them.”
In terms of the legality of the school’s board decision, the Missouri Department of Elementary and Secondary Education has released a document outlining the regulations Missouri school districts can take regarding firearms, as part of Missouri Law section 571.030. The law, which makes it unlawful to carry a loaded or unloaded firearm into any school, has several exceptions, including those with a valid conceal and carry permit with permission from the board.
For KSMU News, I’m Rebekah Clark.