Ways to Prepare for the Issue of Arming School Personnel in YOUR County

2018 MAY 28:  Since last week’s 9th DDWN Meeting, I’ve had a couple of requests from attendees regarding my speech. I tried to cover a great deal of ground in a fairly short time, so I thought I’d go ahead and create what I hope will be a useful tool for members of other counties that haven’t yet had their School Board consider adopting the policy of arming volunteer staff within their schools.

As you may recall, I’m a member of Fannin County and our School Board was the second in the state to adopt a policy of arming school personnel (on a volunteer basis) within our schools. This policy was first introduced at the April 11th Fannin County School Board meeting by School Superintendent Dr. Michael Gwatney. At that time, it was reported that the Board would be allowing a 30 day comment period, before the vote would be taken on the policy, at the May 10th School Board meeting. That left precious little time to really navigate the issue, develop strategies to fight, and gather support from other county groups/residents/teachers, before the vote was to be taken. We weren’t prepared for this in any capacity, so as a result, I don’t think our fight was as strong as it could have been. So I’m offering you all some strategies and ideas for you to consider, in the event this policy is introduced in your county. I predict that several other counties here in the 9th District will start to adopt this policy sooner than later.

  • Be familiar with the Ga Statute: O.C.G.A. 16-11-130.1 This is the statute that was quoted when the policy was introduced formally at the School Board meeting and in the communication that was distributed to the press, following the meeting’s completion. In a nutshell, it authorizes school personnel (this includes all individuals working inside the school) to carry a concealed weapon within areas designated as “school safety zones.” It also lays out the requirements and guidelines to support this statute, so it’s a good idea to be very clear on its contents because the School Boards are relying on this statute to be the backbone of the policy.
  • Begin immediately (preferably PRIOR to the announcement that your county’s School Board is planning on adopting this policy) to form a coalition of members within your community that are concerned about the concept of arming school personnel. Organizing early allows you to be PROACTIVE on this issue, rather than having to be REACTIVE when the policy is introduced in your county. Consider including the following people in your coalitions:
    • Working teachers and administrative personnel-It’s important to mention here that teachers and administrative staff may not be willing to be vocal or out in front on this issue. However, there are still ways to use them wisely as resources, since they have the inside track on what’s actually going on inside the schools.
    • Retired teachers
    • Parents/Grandparents
    • Churches/Clergy
    • Active and retired military and law enforcement/first responders
    • Mental Health and Social Workers/Services
    • Local Indivisible Groups/Moms Demand Action
    • And most importantly, STUDENTS

It’s important to mention at this juncture, that for clear thinking individuals, this is NOT a partisan issue, so you should be able to attract some responsible Republican gun owners to your side of this argument if you start gathering members of your teams early on.

Divide and conquer to make sure people are researching, developing talking points for alternative safety measures, developing questions to pose to School Board members related to costs associated with arming teachers, insurance liability costs, etc. Reach out to counties that have already firmly decided NOT to adopt this policy within their school system, to obtain talking points from them as to why they didn’t proceed with the idea. As I’m writing this, I was notified of a very useful article from the Washington Post related to the issue of insurance (and Fannin County was even mentioned)….please read: https://www.washingtonpost.com/business/economy/one-roadblock-to-arming-teachers-insurance-companies/2018/05/26/59d6c704-5f7e-11e8-8c93-8cf33c21da8d_story.html?utm_term=.06c14a82b811

Develop a position statement on the matter and include all members of your coalition in its signing. Be sure to mention within the statement that, with the exception of the students that may be involved, you are ALL registered and active voters within your community. Get it written now, in an effort to be out in front of this when the policy is announced. Be ready to submit that position statement to the following, once the policy is introduced:

  1. Your county’s School Board
  2. Local Newspapers
  3. Neighboring County Newspapers
    • Become very familiar with your county’s Board of Education website. They may attempt to introduce the policy online BEFORE the meeting where they’ll vote, so as not to attract as much attention to the issue. Remember, they know this is a hot topic and wildly unpopular with many people. So in their eyes, the less attention it receives, the better. AND, because of the attention Fannin County ultimately received, they will likely have learned from this and will seek to adopt methods that lend themselves to being much sneakier and covert.
    • Have at least a couple members of your coalition members commit to attending monthly School Board Meetings (find out if meetings are conducted in the summer, too). This is necessary so that your group can immediately react, rather than waiting for the local paper to publicize it. In our county, our paper is printed once per week, so if I hadn’t attended the meeting when the policy was introduced, we wouldn’t have known about it for another 7 days.
    • Once the policy is announced, it will be news in your county. This is when boots on the ground are needed, AND FAST. Notify the papers of YOUR side of this issue by speaking to reporters and writing letters to the editors. HAVE THESE LETTERS READY, along with your coalition’s position statement. Use online resources and your coalition members to formulate responses to questions like, “What other safety measures could AND should be adopted, rather than arming school personnel?” Be ready and have competent speakers available to speak with reporters.
    • Begin blitzing the School Board with phone calls and letters from members of your community and coalition. Be sure to utilize all methods of communication including phone calls, posting on the School Board website, letters to the editor, and even ads in the paper. Be visible and vocal. Again, this is done to shine the light on their tactic of trying to fly this proposal under the radar of watchful eyes. DO NOT LET THEM.
    • Contact Atlanta TV stations IMMEDIATELY once the policy proposal has been announced, to let them know that your county’s School Board is considering this as an option. Provide the news stations with someone that is credible and can deliver the right message for your coalition. Be able to quote statistics that show clear evidence that arming teachers and school personnel is a dangerous and potentially life-threateningly bad idea. And if a teacher AND/OR student is available and willing to speak, PLEASE consider having them be your voice on this topic.
      • Keep in touch with TV stations throughout the process to let them know how things are progressing, especially if something you deem newsworthy happens PRIOR to the school board meeting in which a vote on the policy is taken. For example, if your coalition is well-formed to the degree that a protest can be scheduled prior to the School Board’s vote, notifying the news stations/paper is a great idea so that they know your group is activated and trying to get the board to reconsider their decision.
      • Finally, notify the TV stations of the date/time/location of the school board meeting, so that they’re present beforehand to interview members of your coalition. Because I can assure you they’re going to be interviewing members in favor of the policy. Publicity of their vote is exactly what the members of the School Board DO NOT WANT, because they want this policy to be passed without fanfare and completely under the radar. Shine the light, and don’t let them get away with it without being accountable for their decision.
      • Here is the contact information for each Atlanta news stations. Make sure you provide them with adequate contact information so they’re able to get connected with you, or a representative of your coalition for interview purposes.
  • On the night that the policy is to be voted on, have as many coalition members attend the School Board meeting as possible. Contact the School Board office early, and request to be added to the list of approved speakers at the meeting to make your voices heard. Be firm in your convictions and ask hard hitting questions of the Board Members. If the board meetings are set up like ours, they aren’t supposed to respond to your queries. But that doesn’t prevent you from asking things like, “When a child is murdered by school personnel because of an accident, that blood will be on YOUR hands. Are you willing to accept that?”
  • The main thing to remember is that one person can’t do this alone. You’ve got to have the help and cooperation of a group of people willing to commit time, effort, and energy to this issue. If it means anything to you at all, please start forming your coalition and plans NOW, because I can assure you that it’s coming to your county.

Susan DeMoura, Vice President
Fannin County Democratic Women