Parent calls for arming Tyrone Area teachers

TYRONE — The father of a Tyrone Area Elementary School student has proposed letting teachers in the district carry guns in school to improve what he argued is inadequate security, in the aftermath of the school shooting in Florida that killed 17.

Robert Smith of Warriors Mark escorted his daughter to school recently because she was late, entered when an official remotely unlocked a door, autographed a sign-in sheet and walked with his daughter to her classroom, unescorted by school personnel — giving him plenty of opportunity to cause harm, if he had been inclined, he told Tyrone Borough Council on Tuesday.

The district’s one security guard, while armed, can hardly cover all vulnerabilities, but if teachers could carry concealed handguns, they could deter someone bent on havoc, Smith said. It would be more cost-effective than hiring more security guards, he said.

“Anyone who thinks Tyrone schools are secure is delusional,” Smith told council members.

He suggested that council members, borough police and Tyrone Area School District officials meet soon to work on a plan.

A fair number of teachers already have concealed-carry permits, and with additional training, they’d be ready — and likely willing — to carry their guns in school, he said.

The reception by council to Smith’s idea seemed largely favorable.

“We appreciate your input,” said Mayor Bill Latchford. “Safety is unbelievably important.”

It would seem, however, that federal and state law currently prevent local school districts from allowing teachers to carry guns in school.

Federal law bans guns on K-12 school property, although it allows exceptions when a firearm is carried as part of a school-approved program or in accord with a contract between the school and the individual or the individual’s employer, according to the Giffords Law Center to Prevent Gun Violence.

Those are major exceptions, according to the center.

However, 40 states, including Pennsylvania, ban guns on school property, according to the center.

Kansas and Arizona allow some leeway — Arizona if schools grant specific permission to carry and Kansas if schools haven’t imposed a ban, according to the center.

Five others — Alabama, Alaska, Oregon, Rhode Island and Utah — allow guns in school if the bearers have conceal permits.

And three others — Hawaii, New Hampshire and Wyoming — simply don’t regulate guns on K-12 school property, according to the center.

The Pennsylvania State Senate passed a bill in the summer that would have allowed teachers with concealed-carry permits to carry guns on school grounds. It didn’t become law.

The Pennsylvania State Education Association opposes the idea and railed against the bill, saying that arming teachers would add danger, place teachers in an inappropriate role as law enforcement officers and possibly create confusion for first responders in a shooting because they might find it harder to distinguish between faculty and perpetrators.

Before Tyrone Area School District teachers can carry guns in school, the state would need to change its law, and the school board would need to consider all sides, said John Clark, district business manager, who spoke by phone Wednesday.

Despite what Smith said, the school already has a “solid” security system, Clark said.

That includes a sign-in policy for parents and metal detectors used randomly for screening students, he said. There’s also another piece of security equipment that he didn’t identify.

There are also monthly security exercises — “beyond fire drills,” he said. And there are security policies in place that he declined to identify, so as not to allow them to be sidestepped by someone aiming to cause trouble.

School officials discuss security in preparation for every school year, and they also discuss it during sessions, he said.

But security isn’t the only aim, according to Clark.

Rather, the aim is a balance between security and openness, he said.

After all, the school is a community resource, with public events nearly every day, he said.

“How much of a fence do you want to put up?” he asked rhetorically. “If we wanted to be extreme, nobody comes beyond the front door. Security-wise, that improves (the situation), but welcoming-wise, it obviously puts people off.”

Smith, however, was adamant.

“We need to do something,” he said. “(And) we need to do it as a community.”

Mirror Staff Writer William Kibler is at 949-7038.

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