Boone County parents, educators debate program to arm teachers

BURLINGTON, Ky. -- Boone County schools responded to the Parkland, Florida shooting by adding more guns to its educational landscape: Every public school in the district, from elementary to high school, is now patrolled by an armed deputy or school resource officer and will be for the foreseeable future.

Some parents, teachers and community members are wary of the prospect; others aren't willing to stop there. If Joe Khalil, designer of a program called Protect Our Students and Teachers -- POST -- has his way, about 5 percent of Boone County teachers might be picking up a gun in addition to more standard school supplies such as folders, notecards and pens.

"The bottom line is, if a gunman walks in school at 10 tomorrow morning with a gun, people are going to die until a good guy with a gun actually mitigates them," Kalil said at a Thursday night meeting of the Boone County Board of Education. He hoped to persuade the board to adopt POST throughout the district.

The crowd of hundreds that attended said meeting, many of them parents or teachers of Boone County students, was split. 

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"It frustrates me to think that the only thing I can do if an active shooter comes into that building is throw soup cans or staplers at them," John Mefford, who teaches chemistry at Larry A. Ryle High School, said. "I need some way to protect those children."

"We did not go into education to be armed guards of children," disagreed Conner High School Spanish teacher Alana Rowland. "We are here to help guide them."

Since the Parkland shooting, which claimed 17 lives on Valentine's Day, arming teachers has joined the cornucopia of mass shooting solutions floated by politicians and activists. Its advocates include President Donald Trump, Education Secretary Betsy DeVos and the Boone County Sheriff's Office; its opponents include some survivors of the Parkland shooting itself.

The proposal is so unusual -- not only in the United States but globally -- that little data exists to definitively support either side. Armed school resource officers failed to mitigate the gunmen in either the Columbine or the Parkland shooting, despite possible opportunities to have done so.

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An armed teacher in Georgia barricaded himself in his classroom and fired out the window at the end of February to deter would-be interlopers; no one was harmed in the incident.

"We have this romantic fantasy that a teacher will pop out of this door and start this firefight with an invader," parent Jesse Parks said. "Is the school board ready for the deal that causes innocent children? Imagine if a firearm is discharged accidentally."

The board did not make a decision about implementing POST district-wide Thursday night.  

Kalil emphasized no one would be compelled to carry a firearm if they did not wish to do so.

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