A bill that would allow some Tennessee teachers to carry a concealed firearm in schools passed its first hurdle Wednesday.
The House Civil Justice Subcommittee approved the measure, sponsored by Rep. David Byrd, R-Waynesboro, and Sen. Joey Hensley, R–Hohenwald, which was met with both opposition and support since its introduction.
The duo originally introduced the bill to give teachers and school employees in Wayne and Pickett counties additional options for voluntary firearms training. However, Byrd said he decided to expand the legislation to include all Tennessee counties after it received support from educators.
Wayne and Pickett counties are among some Tennessee counties that do not have school resource officers or share school resource officers among different schools. In Wilson County, each public school has at least one school resource officer, while high schools have multiple officers.
The legislation would allow counties and school boards to adopt policy that allows the director of schools, in consultation with the principal of each school, to authorize and select employees on a voluntary basis to carry a concealed handgun within and on the grounds of their respective schools. One employee would be allowed to carry per every 75 students in the school.
The selected employees must reach certain requirements, including completion of more than 40 hours of peace officers standards and training commission-approved handgun instruction and 16 hours of continuing instruction a year.
District directors would be required to notify law enforcement agencies of who the selected employees are, and those individuals would be required to wear identifiable insignia at sporting events. The legislation would also allow school boards and directors the ability to revoke an employee’s ability to carry a concealed handgun.
Wilson County Commissioner Terry Ashe, Tennessee Sheriff’s Association executive director and former Wilson County sheriff, spoke against the measure Wednesday. Ashe helped start Wilson County’s school resource officer program in 1994.
“I had the political will of a community that was willing to fund it,” said Ashe, who said he believed the preferred measure for school safety should be school resource officers.
Ashe said his opposition to the legislation is due to the liability training agencies such as police departments would have if there’s a “failure to train” incident. Russell Marty, legislative liaison for Gov. Bill Haslam, shared the same sentiment.
“From a philosophical perspective, the governor’s office believes that, based on some similar concerns that have been raised, teachers in counties with proper school resource officers in place, that the teacher’s proper role is not to be protecting the student and that’s the role of the school resource officers,” Marty said.
Ashe said there about 900 school resource officers in the state, which accounts for about 40 percent coverage of schools, mainly due to the lack of school resource officers at many state elementary schools.
Ashe said school resource officers receive about 580 hours of training before they step foot inside of a school building.
“Our Tennessee SROs are well trained, well thought of and well respected in their community,” he said.
Wilson County Sheriff Robert Bryan discussed school resource officers during Monday’s Wilson County Commission meeting.
“I just want so say one thing. I sit in those meetings, and I feel fortunate, because this body, several years ago when Commissioner Ashe served as sheriff, took the responsibility to put SROs in these schools. I can sit in those meetings and say my county did the right thing. They’re asking us how did we do it,” Bryan said. “We’ve got a safe school system. We’ve got trained officers. We’ve got the right people in the schools, and I feel comfortable with our school system and safety.”
“When I put an SRO officer in a school, the first thing I asked him is why he wants to be there, and if he didn’t want to be there for caring for the children and serving the public in that capacity, I never put nobody in a school. That was my standard,” Ashe said.
The measure is on schedule to be heard Tuesday by the full House Civil Justice Committee.
School safety survey
Professional Educators of Tennessee officials announced Thursday it’s conducting a 10-question survey regarding the level of safety measures in state schools.
The survey is currently open online and will end March 9.
“Tennessee public schools are entrusted with the responsibility of educating the citizens of tomorrow,” said J.C. Bowman, executive director of Professional Educators of Tennessee. “A safe and secure environment is a requirement for effective teaching and learning. Educator and student safety is a priority for Professional Educators of Tennessee. We believe school management and planning in regards for student and educators must be a constant process and priority for all policymakers. Tennessee citizens think for themselves. Educators think for themselves, with an authentic voice that advocates for students entrusted in their care.
“We invite active and retired educators to take this brief survey and share your opinion on school safety in order that we can share with state leaders and the media. By conducting the survey, Professional Educators of Tennessee can assist and help educate legislators in understanding how teachers feel on the growing concern of school safety. Because we have the direct input of educators, Professional Educators of Tennessee advocacy efforts carry significant weight with legislators.”
The survey for educators may be found at surveymonkey.com/r/tnsafety.
By Xavier Smith