Guns no immediate factor in WBR school board security plans

Monday, January 14, 2013 - 10:20pm

The West Baton Rouge Parish School Board began the process of creating a shooting response plan with little mention of putting guns on campus.

Principals of each district school and members of local law enforcement attended Monday night's meeting to add their voices to the topic of school security. The board said it wanted to update its procedures before the massacre in Newtown, CT, but that event gave more urgency to the discussion.

Parents who spoke with FOX44 had mixed opinions about whether or not to arm teachers. Only one board member seemed to advocate the idea of putting guns in schools, but he did not specify whether teachers would be responsible for carrying them, or if he wanted more police officers on campus.

"I think, if we have highly-qualified people who can pack a gun in our schools, we've should have 'em do that," said Michael Maranto. "And make sure that they're certified to do that, make sure they're qualified, they get all the training they need."

A retired teacher said he attended the meeting to provide opposition to that idea.

"The teachers I know do not want that extra responsibility of a gun," said Carnell Washington, who is also the president of the East Baton Rouge Federation of Teachers. He added, "that's not what teachers are. They're not gun-carrying people, they're people that love kids, and they protect kids."

Lots of issues stand in the way of arming teachers, such as state laws against having guns on campus, as well as having them volunteer and train for their weapons. One option would be to have teachers deputized into the West Baton Rouge Sheriff's Office, but Superintendent David Corona stressed that, for the time being, too much needs to happen to consider the possibility.

The role of teachers, and their ability to stop an incident, was the focus of a large portion of the discussion.

"So the teachers are actually the first line (of defense)," said Port Allen Police Chief Esdron Brown. "They have their ears and eyes open. Because most of the time, when somebody do something like this, they're giving signs."

Board Member Ronald LeBlanc agreed, but added, "I want our teachers to have face to face training with somebody who knows what the heck they're doing."

While the board wanted to develop a plan, the law enforcement officers impressed upon them the idea that flexibility would be critical to saving lives.

"It makes a great deal of sense," Corona said, "not to just stay in a situation with somebody coming, shooting haphazardly throughout a school. It makes a great deal of sense to try and get away."

The law enforcement officers suggested that the district relax its rules on cell phone use in school, because they would serve a vital role in communication in case of an emergency.

One member of the sheriff's office's crisis response team, who asked to remain anonymous, said it trains at least eight hours a month. But given the current procedures, it would need approximately 30 minutes to fully mobilize

While little was ultimately decided, everyone in attendance seemed pleased with the ideas they generated.

"Obviously this is not a one-time conversation, there'll be some on-going things," Corona said. He thought Monday's meeting brought, "a lot of good questions asked, a lot of good thoughts shared, and as a result, we've got some direction to take."

The board said it will conduct security walkthroughs on February 16th. Board members, school administrators, and law enforcement officers will meet to assess the strengths and weaknesses of all 10 of its schools.

"The plan that they're trying to make, the strategy that they're bringing in law enforcement, they're bringing in other experts on security who have done this for years and years, I think it's a great idea," Washington said. "It's a great start."


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