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Board bans guns on district property

by: SUBMITTED PHOTOS - Helwig (left), Porter (right)The St. Helens School District is now a gun-free zone.

Following a long discussion, school board members passed a policy that forbids staff, teachers, district volunteers and contractors from carrying guns on district property or at district events — even if the individual has a concealed handgun license.

Under the policy, the superintendent can approve individuals who want to carry a firearm, but this approval will not be granted “without a great deal of thought,” said Business Director Janine Salisbury. The district’s insurance provider has said it will charge the district approximately $1,000 to $1,500 per authorization. This is a significant expense, Salisbury said, and one the cash-strapped district isn’t eager to take on.

Safety was at the center of the debate at the board meeting March 20. But while some board members believed the way to achieve student safety was to allow teachers and staff to arm themselves, other board members said the focus should be on training people to get away from dangerous situations and to leave any shooting to police officers or security personnel.

The final vote was three to two to approve the policy. Board members Nathan Helwig, Matt Freeman, and Alan King voted in favor of implementing the policy. Board members Ray Biggs and Marshall Porter voted against it, saying it restricts Second Amendment rights.

“I really think that this is a freedom issue,” said Biggs, and added, “I’m wondering if there’s not a fear of the unknown.”

He said he could not find any reported incidents of a person with a concealed handgun license shooting up a school. Porter echoed this. He said many of the nation’s recent school shootings have been the work of mentally ill and disturbed individuals. Porter said he trusted the district’s teachers and staff.

“And yes,” he said, “they can eventually have a bad day but I don’t see them going ballistic in schools or they would have already done it.”

He and Biggs said allowing staff and teachers to carry guns could deter any would-be shooters.

Helwig countered this, saying, “Mental illness cannot be legislated nor can it be regulated. ... Having guns in a location is not going to dissuade [shooters] from what they are hellbent on doing.”

He said the point of concealed carry is self-defense not public defense.

“It’s not a role I want the teachers to be in,” he said.

Concealed carry also does not guarantee that the person carrying the gun even knows how to really use it, said Freeman. The gun safety class he took to qualify for a concealed handgun license did not impress him.

“There’s more training and testing involved with a food handler’s permit,” he said. Without the policy, “we can have any number of people ... in the school at any time with weapons and we don’t know.”

St. Helens Teachers Union President Keith Meeuwsen had polled teachers. He told the board the majority, approximately 70 individuals, was in favor of the policy and 20 were opposed. However, both sides voiced concerns about people’s right to bear arms.

Meeuwsen said the teachers who wanted the “no gun” policy told him, “I didn’t get hired to carry a gun. I was hired to teach kids.”