Meadville Tribune

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January 16, 2013

GUNS IN SCHOOLS: Local officials, educators chime in on divisive issue


MEADVILLE — Arm teachers?

State Rep. Greg Lucas, whose Fifth Legislative District includes a northwestern portion of Crawford County, recently announced his intention to introduce legislation that would allow teachers and other school personnel to arm themselves while at work. According to Lucas — a former public school teacher whose website lists accomplishments including instructor, coach and recruiter with the National Rifle Association as well as a Pennsylvania Game Commission hunter and trapper instructor — “this would enable them to defend our students during emergencies.”

“I think it’s a horrible idea,” said Mary Lynne Peters, a long-time music teacher recently retired from Crawford Central School District and currently in training to take over the position of All-State Festival Coordinator for Pennsylvania Music Educators Association in June. “I worry about responding to violence with violence.”

Veteran educator John Amato, a Meadville resident who taught for 22 years at Meadville and Conneaut Lake high schools, coached for just about as long and served for 28 years in the military between active duty and reserves, agreed. “I don’t think arming teachers is the solution,” he said. “The answer really is that we need to fix the families. If we can fix the families, we wouldn’t have to worry about guns in the schools.”

A lively debate

“There’s been a lively policy debate about whether having teachers carry weapons makes the school safer or creates a situation where a crazed gunman starts a shoot-out situation,” said George Joseph, attorney for Conneaut School District. “It’s a good discussion. I’m not sure if there are any easy or quick solutions, but it’s a good debate to have.”

Superintendent Charlie Heller of Crawford Central School District has already made up his mind. “The people in our building are trained to educate children,” he told the Tribune. “They’ve never had any training at all with regard to any kind of law enforcement and it’s against the law for anyone who is not already a law enforcement officer to bring a weapon onto school property.”

Superintendent Connie Youngblood has already scheduled a meeting to discuss the issue directly with Lucas, whose district includes Cussewago Township in PENNCREST School District.

Although she’s reserving final judgment until after the meeting, “what would really help our schools would be money targeted to provide additional training in the schools,” Youngblood said. “Training teachers and staff, taking a look at our entrances — maybe retrofitting them to be more secure. If more money was available for steps like that, it might have more of an impact than arming teachers in the schools.”

During an interview with the Tribune following his initial announcement, Lucas acknowledged that “police or professional security personnel would be a better idea, but may not be a school district’s top priority in a time of budget cuts.”

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