BY O.J. EARLY
Legislation expected to become state law would permit certain teachers and other school personnel to come to work armed as early as next fall for security reasons if local school officials in a school system permit it.
The legislation passed last week in the state Senate. The state House of Representatives passed the measure two weeks ago.
Therefore, the bill has now gone to Gov. Bill Haslam, whose office helped write the legislation, for final approval. If the governor signs it, it becomes state law.
Even if signed into law, the bill will not be enforced statewide -- each school system would decide whether to implement the legislation or not.
The bill specifies that the identities of those faculty and/or staff members carrying a gun at school would be kept anonymous -- only the school principal, school superintendent and local law enforcement chief would know who is armed and who isn't.
State Rep. Jeremy Faison, R-11th, of Cosby, State Rep. David Hawk, R-5th, of Greeneville, and State Sen. Steve Southerland, R-1st, of Morristown, all three of Greene County's lawmakers, voted for the legislation.
In separate interviews, each cited the bill as another way to improve school safety.
Greene County Director of Schools Dr. Vicki Kirk and Greeneville City Schools Director Dr. Linda Stroud oppose implementing the measure locally.
Both have stated publicly their opposition to teachers and other school faculty bringing firearms to school.
"If you look in the past, the schools, the theaters, and the places that have been attacked were all places that had signs up banning guns," Southerland said.
"If a criminal thinks there is a chance of a gun being there, they are less likely to attack."
School faculty and staff given the authority to carry a gun in school must: have a handgun carry permit, must receive written permission from the school superintendent and school principal, and must participate in a 40-hour class in "school policing," which includes crisis management and hostile situation training.
Faison noted the amount of training a school employee must receive before he or she could be given the go-ahead to carry a gun on campus.
"You are talking about someone who really understands all the ins and outs of firearms and has been trained," Faison said. "You really eliminate the scope of who can carry a gun and who can't."
He added: "I saw some very valid reasons to vote for this bill. It's another tool to bring safety to the school."
Local and state leaders have worked for months on a plan that would safely and efficiently increase the number of armed persons on school campuses, according to Hawk.
"The desire is not that someone is teaching math one period and the next period they are guarding the school," said Hawk, who represents an estimated 90 percent of Greene County in the state House. "That is not the goal."
LOCAL SCHOOL DIRECTORS OPPOSED
Neither Dr. Kirk nor Dr. Stroud is convinced the bill will do much to increase school safety. The bill is reactionary in nature, both directors said.
"I have come out against teachers and principals being armed. I don't think it is their primary responsibility," said Kirk. "I think it blurs the line."
Stroud voiced similar sentiments.
"We are educators," Stroud said. "This is much more of an issue than just carrying a gun. I will not be recommending that the Greeneville City School System arm their teachers."
State funds have not been budgeted for the legislation, although $34 million will be distributed for statewide school security improvements in the coming year, Hawk said.
The governor is expected to sign the bill, Faison, Hawk and Southerland all said this week.
"The governor's administration worked very closely with us on the legislation," Hawk said. "The bill that passed was a work of a lot of different people."