Educators wary of arming principals

Editor's note: An earlier version of this story misidentified Columbia County school principal Leann Fleischauer.

 

School officials in Columbia and Richmond counties aren’t ready to put guns in the hands of principals just yet.

Reaction was cautious and largely negative to Gov. Nathan Deal’s comment Wednesday that he expects to sign legislation allowing school administrators to carry firearms. Several educators described the push as a “knee-jerk reaction” to the Dec. 14 shootings in Newtown, Conn.

“My initial thought is that just a few years ago they took the paddle out of our hands, and now they’re gonna give us a gun?” said Columbia County School Superintendent Charles Nagle.

“It’s just unbelievable to me that anyone with responsibility would just arbitrarily have a knee-jerk reaction to arm administrators,” he said. “I trust me with a gun, but I wouldn’t trust me with a gun in a school.”

Schoolboard member David Dekle, in contrast, applauded the possibility of local schools having the option of allowing principals to carry guns.

“The only thing that might prevent a crazy person from coming in and killing somebody might be an adult with another gun,” Dekle said. “I would support it.”

Richmond County Board of Education President Venus Cain said she wouldn’t expect the board to pass such a measure because training can’t always prepare everyone to be able to use a lethal weapon in all situations.

“You can pull a gun and think it’s an appropriate time or feel threatened, but when you go back and look at it, you find out it’s really not a threat,” Cain said. “I just got some questions I feel need to be answered.”

Board member Alex Howard said Richmond County differs from other school systems in the state because all its middle and high schools have armed school safety officers already. He said giving a principal a gun would not solve the long-term problem at hand.

“I think there are other ways to prevent that,” Howard said. “Quite frankly, I don’t know if the principal would be able to save many students. The principal’s job is safety for the students. I don’t think the principal’s job is to hunt down someone.”

The response from some administrators in Columbia County was also one of caution.

As a former Army captain, Alternative School Principal Ja’Net Bishop is no stranger to carrying a gun.

“I would be a trained and qualified person to do so,” she said, “But I would not feel comfortable around children in that capacity. It’s a whole different world in the military compared to being on a school campus.”

Even though he has a concealed carry permit and owns several weapons, Greenbrier High School Principal Chris Segraves likewise worried about the amount of training needed for anyone to use a gun in a high-pressure situation.

“It sounds like a Western,” he said. “It’s just not as easy as passing legislation and saying, ‘OK, here you are, boys – go out and buy a Glock and holster it up.’ ”

Jason Moore, the principal at Cross Creek High School in Richmond County, said if the measure were to pass, principals would need extensive training about how to use the weapon and deal with an emergency situation.

“You’re already responsible for a lot of lives in that building before you even put education into the mix,” Moore said. “Your No. 1 priority is keeping your students and staff safe.”

Baker Place Elementary School Principal Leann Fleischauer said even with training she wouldn’t feel suited to carry a weapon.

“I’m not comfortable with it,” said the Columbia County principal. “I’ve never had a gun safety class. I wouldn’t feel comfortable carrying a gun.”

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