The fallout from high-profile school shootings landed in Vancouver on Tuesday when a group of gun advocates called on Vancouver Public Schools to allow teachers to be armed and to replace “gun-free zone” signs in schools with signs reading “protected by armed personnel.”
A group of about eight, including members of the group Reality Clark County, attended the district’s board meeting. Three spoke during a public comment period — Bob Larimer, Lynda Wilson and Mark Koprek — calling on the board to change policy that district officials said is actually governed by state law.
“They came and presented within their three-minute time limit. They were well-prepared and were respectful of the board’s citizens comments,” said Mike Stromme, the district’s associate superintendent for teaching and learning.
After the citizens comments portion of the meeting, district officials met privately with the group for about 30 minutes.
“It’s been the practice of the district at a meeting like that, if there are several citizens who come to speak on a topic, one or more of our staff members try to meet with them,” said Tom Hagley, the district’s executive director of community and government relations.
“We were clear that the state law does not presently permit what they are asking for. State law states that schools are gun-free zones, and that is posted at school buildings. The only exception of guns in schools are trained law enforcement officers,” said Stromme.
State Rep. Liz Pike, R-Camas, has announced that she is considering drafting a bill that would allow teachers to take a gun training course, buy their own guns and bring them to school. All of this would be at the expense of teachers, not school districts, she said.
“Representative Pike’s bill will make it voluntary. It doesn’t mean every school personnel is carrying a gun,” Larimer said in a telephone interview Wednesday. “The potential school shooter would know there is someone armed. We’re talking about protecting innocent people.”
In a Dec. 21 post on the Reality Clark County group’s website, Larimer wrote: “Concealed Carry school personnel on campus is an inevitable reality that some just haven’t thought through yet. Our task is to move people to see that this is the sole, logical solution.”
The group Reality Clark County describes itself as “a coalition of citizens intent on rescuing individual rights while preserving the balance of nature.”
“The state Legislature will be considering this,” Stromme said. “The board of directors with VPS will not consider this until such time that the Legislature changes the law.”
Stromme said any consideration of allowing teachers to carry firearms “will bring up a host of other complex issues.”
“We’d need to consider tort liability, risk management, training and psychological evaluations relative to who may or may not be able to carry, and a host of other issues before we would be able to recommend to the board,” Stromme said.
Stromme said the district has four armed, trained officers at its four largest high schools from the Clark County Sheriff’s Office and the Vancouver Police Department. After the Dec. 14 shooting at Sandy Hook Elementary in Newtoen, Conn., the district hired an additional seven district resource officers, bringing the total to 23 resource officers.
District resource officers are district employees who do not carry guns. They sometimes have batons, pepper spray and tasers.
Mick Hoffman, the district’s director of safety and security, is doing a comprehensive review of security in all buildings. He also is a member of the Clark County Safe Schools Task Force, a networking agency for all the county’s public school districts, law enforcement agencies, fire departments, Clark Regional Emergency Services Agency, American Red Cross and others. Every August, this group trains the county’s school administrators.
Vancouver’s interim police Chief Chris Sutter asked the group to form a subcommittee to look at school security. Their first meeting is Friday.
“School safety is going to be a national discussion,” said Hagley. “The president’s commission headed by Joe Biden — those discussions start (Wednesday). It will be a topic of debate in our country for the foreseeable future.”
The district spends nearly $2 million annually for safety and security measures, Stromme said. That funding is built into the maintenance and operations levy.
“The state provides minimal funding for safety and security measures,” said Stromme.
“If the state requires districts to take additional safety and security measures, they should fund it,” said Hagley.
The school board of Evergreen Public Schools also met on Tuesday evening, but representatives from Reality Clark County did not speak at that meeting, said Carol Fenstermacher, district spokeswoman.