Georgia’s second-largest school district approved a policy Thursday that allows some employees who are not certified police officers to carry weapons in schools, but excludes teachers from those who may be armed.
The 4-2 Cobb County school board vote in suburban Atlanta split along party lines as opponents, including gun control activists, chanted “Delay the vote!” and “What a shame!”
Georgia schools have been able to arm teachers and other staff under a state law passed in 2014. After a 2018 school shooting in Parkland, Florida, a handful of Georgia’s 180 districts, all with heavily enrolled lowest, passed policies to arm non-officers. on campus. The move in the 106,000-student Cobb school district, one of the 25 largest in the country, is explicitly a response to the school shooting in Uvalde, Texas, that killed 19 students and two teachers last May.
Cobb County Superintendent Chris Ragsdale told board members before the vote that the district currently only has 67 officers for its 114 schools, and competition to hire police officers is intense.
“If the board gave me a blank check and told me to hire a school resource officer for every school in Cobb County, I wouldn’t be able to do that,” Ragsdale said.
The policy originally would have allowed teachers to be approved to bear arms if they had “unique qualifications,” but Ragsdale removed that part of the proposal. Teachers would not be allowed to carry weapons.
“I am not in favor of arming teachers. However, I am in favor of investigating all options so that we can hire retired military, retired police officers,” Ragsdale said.
Ragsdale discussed hiring those people and paying them less than certified police officers. But it was not clear whether the district intends for everyone authorized to carry a weapon to be a full-time security employee, or whether the district could also authorize employees who primarily have other duties. A spokesperson for the school district did not respond to emails, a phone call and a text message seeking comment.
The policy says that people would have to receive training, and Ragsdale has committed to receiving the same training as certified school resource officers. He said he would also do a psychological evaluation and that school district Police Chief Ron Storey would have the final say on approvals. Under state law, no employee can be penalized for refusing to carry a weapon. Their names and all other records would be kept secret.
“On a need-to-know basis, everyone who needs to know who these people are will know who they are,” Ragsdale said.
The weapons would have to be concealed on the body or secured in a locked safe.
But the opponents were not persuaded. Cobb’s school board is highly divided, with four white Republicans and three black Democrats. One of those Democrats, Jaha Howard, said there was no proof the plan would work.
“I have yet to see data or proof that more professionals carrying guns means our kids or staff will be safer,” Howard said. He later tried to postpone the vote until the board meeting in late August. Classes begin in Cobb County on August 1.
Alisha Thomas Searcy, who beat Howard and others to become the Democratic nominee for state superintendent of schools in November, echoed Howard’s criticism. She said that she was opposed to everyone except certified police officers being armed in schools.
“As a mother, the last thing I want to think about is more guns in my daughter’s school or any other kind of school,” she said during a public comment period. “I certainly agree that more caring adults are needed in our school, but not those who carry guns and are not police officers.”
Oppositionist Charles Cole said the policy was poorly drafted.
“I think it’s dangerous, reckless and very, wrongly, overt. ‘Let’s get more guns in the schools and we might add some details later,’ is not the way we should operate,” Cole said, adding that “our children deserve more foresight. .”
Those opponents began to shout “Delay the vote!” and caused a recess of the board. When the board returned, all four Republicans rejected Howard’s postponement proposal and pushed the measure through even as the chanting continued.
An earlier version of this story incorrectly stated when Georgia passed a law allowing non-officers to be armed in schools. It was in 2014.