Columbiana village district holds forum about arming staff

COLUMBIANA — Arming school staff with guns could be viewed as a deterrent for school violence, but is it worth the physical and emotional risk?

That was one question posed by a community member and educator who spoke to the Columbiana Board of Education during a public forum Tuesday at the high school.

Just over a dozen community members shared how they felt about the possibility of concealed carry for staff, with five opposed to the idea and six in favor.

Two others who spoke did not weigh in for or against, but asked the board to consider things like preventative behavioral programs and security during transportation.

The forum attracted a large crowd of parents, teachers, district residents and even past graduates.

Columbiana High School senior Nathan Whitehead said he would be more comfortable with concealed carry among staff.

“I don’t feel comfortable when I am in a classroom that has one door, knowing that my best recourse is to throw books at the person,” he said.

City resident Dr. James Garstick, whose three sons graduated from the district, said schools are soft targets.

“People who want to do harm to students will go where there is least resistance,” he said.

He thinks concealed carry should be implemented on a volunteer basis.

Joshua Dixon Elementary parent Elizabeth Nelson opposed. She said there is no evidence that armed staff has resulted in less violence.

She argued that there have been more incidents as a result of armed staff only recently, referring to cases of teachers firing guns both intentionally and accidentally in other states.

“I am not convinced that arming teachers and staff contribute to their safety in the event of a school shooter,” she said.

Columbiana substitute teacher and Heartland Christian track and cross country coach Brian Grant agreed, noting that in the last 12 weeks, there have been 15 school shootings.

“In no instance has an armed teacher put a stop to a school shooting,” he said.

District parent Matthew Peterson said he is concerned about the psychological cost of arming staff.

“We already ask a huge amount of our teachers to invest in our children emotionally, intellectually,” he said, adding that teachers should not have to be responsible for the potential decision to fire a gun at someone.

Gary Wilms, a 1958 graduate, agreed the responsibility of guns should not be put upon school administrators or teachers.

Dylan Edwards, a 2014 graduate, said it would make more sense to invest in a school resource officer as opposed to arming staff.

But others were concerned that an officer wouldn’t be enough, since one person cannot be present in all three buildings at the same time.

Those in favor of concealed carry argued staff could respond more quickly than the police department in the event of a train, since the police station is located on the other side of the train tracks as the middle and high schools buildings.