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Board to decide if guns are allowed at school

by: SPOTLIGHT FILE PHOTO - School buses for the St. Helens School District line up.A proposed new gun policy at the St. Helens School District has divided the board and produced mixed opinions among teachers and school staff.

The new policy would forbid school employees, district contractors and their employees, as well as district volunteers, from carrying any dangerous or deadly weapon or firearm onto school district property or at school-sponsored events. This prohibition would extend even to those who have concealed-carry permits.

The proposed policy is almost the direct result of the Sandy Hook Elementary School shooting in Newtown, Conn., in Dec. 2012 when 20 first-graders and six teachers were killed, said St. Helens School District Superintendent Mark Davalos. A national debate over gun control and safety has raged ever since, including discussions about whether or not teachers should carry guns.

“Everyone cares about the safety of kids,” Davalos said. “I think there’s a pretty even split on safety and how you arrive at safety ... At the same time, we believe in our country and our constitution and our rights.”

“The school board has already implemented some changes to its weapons policy regarding students, forbidding students from bringing and using any sort of weapon on district property or at events and activities overseen by the school.

The staff policy, however, is creating more of a stir.

“I am against the policy,” said Board Member Marshall Porter. “We have a Second Amendment right to defend ourselves and I believe the teachers have that right as well.”

The policy has progressed through the meetings and will face its third and final reading at the board’s March 20 meeting. At this meeting, the board can choose to pass the policy, table the policy or wait to decide, Davalos said.

Porter said there was a lively discussion back and forth at previous meetings, with himself and Board Member Ray Biggs against the policy while board members Alan King and Matt Freeman were in favor of it.

“Nathan [Helwig] is the wild card at this point,” Porter said.

As the fifth board member, Helwig could be the deciding vote if the board decides to take action on the policy March 20.

Porter said he would be interested in allowing concealed carry on district property, with the requirement that those people must report this fact to the administration. Biggs is against this, saying the point of concealed carry is privacy. Information about which teachers have concealed carry permits and which don’t could become public, he cautioned.

“I can see his point,” Porter said. “But the administrators still have a job they need to do to keep kids safe. Knowing what’s happening on the property is as much their right and responsibility as someone who wants to carry.”

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