An Ohio school district, of similar size to Tamaqua's, has recently enacted a "concealed carry" policy for staff members, similar to what school district officials are researching and considering here.
Tuesday night, the Tamaqua board directed its education committee President Larry Wittig, Eileen Meiser and Wanda Zuber to develop a policy for the district that allows certain staff members to be trained in handling firearms. On Jan. 9, Montpelier Exempted Village Schools, Montpelier, Ohio approved a concealed carry policy for staff (see sidebar).
Montpelier officials chose not to include teachers, who have direct supervision over students, in the mix of staff employees who may be carrying a concealed handgun. Instead, the teachers' responsibility is to lock doors and protect students. Montpelier's total enrollment is about 1,000 students, educated in a combination middle/high school, and separate elementary school.
Montpelier Superintendent Dr. Jamison Grime said the new policy has been well supported.
"We adopted the policy because we felt that after taking a look at our existing employees, we could identify four employees that were trained previously and willing to go through more training," Grime said. "Some of these employees have children here and have a vested interest in protection of students.
"We believe it will be a deterrent and we also believe that with proper tactical training, armed employees can contain evil doers until law enforcement arrives," he added. "I have had 98 percent support of the policy since the decision has been made."
During Tuesday's school board meeting, Wittig alluded to pending legislation in Pennsylvania which would make it possible for school staff members, with the approval of school officials, to carry concealed handguns. Wittig said that the state Department of Education is also involved in the process.
In 1990, Congress passed the federal Gun Free School Zone law, which prohibits possession of guns, knives and other weapons in schools, and within a set distance of school buildings. As is true with a Drug Free Zone, penalties are more severe for violators.
Since then, 19 states (Alabama, California, Connecticut, Hawaii, Idaho, Iowa, Kentucky, Massachusetts, Mississippi, Montana, New Hampshire, New Jersey, New York, Ohio, Oregon, Rhode Island, Texas, Utah and Wyoming) have enacted legislation which allows certain individuals approved by the school district to carry a concealed weapon within the "gun free" zone. At least five more states (Missouri, North Dakota, Oklahoma, South Carolina and South Dakota) have similar legislation pending.
The North Dakota bill also addresses the issue of "gun free" zones at churches. It would allow certain persons to concealed carry in a church or school zone with the approval of the proper authorities:
"An individual possessing a valid concealed weapons license from this state or a valid license issued by another state authorizing the person to carry a dangerous weapon concealed if the individual is in a church and has the approval to carry in the church by a primary religious leader of the church or the governing body of the church; or is in a school and has the approval to carry by the principal or the governing body of the school," reads the text of the measure.
In another section of the pending legislation, the supporters describe their reasons for supporting the bill: "This bill would clear the way for school officials to allow teachers and other employees to concealed carry on school grounds, sending a message to would-be shooters that these places might not be as vulnerable to attack as they once were."
That's a sentiment echoed by Wittig during Tuesday's school board meeting, when he described the effect of having each school have staff members, who are anonymous, carrying a concealed handgun.
"That would give us a reasonable deterrent in each building," Wittig said. "Then someone is not going in thinking they are being completely unopposed."