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Local Education
Armed teachers become a reality in Georgia
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Armed teachers become a reality in Georgia

One week after the school shooting in Parkland, Florida, the idea of arming teachers to keep students safe is being talked about across the country.

Armed teachers become a reality in Georgia

The school shooting in Parkland, Fla., convinced school Superintendent Daniel Brigman that his plan to arm teachers and other Laurens County, Ga., school personnel needed to go beyond the idea phase.

“I’ve had this discussion repeatedly with different boards of education for the last 14 years,” Brigman said. His school district is southeast of Macon and the first in Georgia to make the move. “What happened in Florida heightened the level of awareness and concern that we needed a procedure in place to protect the safety of our schools.”

» MORE: “He had an AR-15, but so did I.” Sutherland Springs hero hailed by NRA

As students across metro Atlanta and the country head to school each day, the adults in their lives grapple with how to keep kids safe. More police? More guns? Fewer guns? More locks? More cameras? More technology?

Laurens County’s school board approved arming teachers last month. The Florida shooting seemed to set the dominoes falling. Georgia made it legal for school systems to arm teachers in 2012, but this month the Fannin County Board of Education will consider a similar decision, and there are discussions in others, such as Floyd and Bleckley counties. Most metro Atlanta school system leaders have so far declined to consider it, though Clayton County Superintendent Morcease Beasley said after Florida that the issue was “more complicated than a simple yes or no (for or against); it will require a multifaceted response from more than a single entity making a decision.”

» MORE: Campus carry attracts opinions, but no problems as school opens

As for arming classroom instructors, teachers, parents and law enforcement are on both sides of the issue. And the conversation has gained volume with recent events, from school shootings to school walkouts and a school-violence and gun protest march in Atlanta that drew an estimated 30,000 people.

According to data compiled by the Washington Post, 210,000 students at 213 schools have experienced gun violence at school since the 1999 shootings at Columbine High School in Colorado. When you consider the tens of millions of schoolchildren, that number is tiny. But this year alone, there have been 13 school shootings, according to media reports.

The Atlanta Journal-Constitution
Students pass by a Laurens County Sheriff’s deputy stationed at East Laurens High School on Tuesday, May 2, 2018, in Dublin. Laurens County is the first school district in Georgia to allow teachers and other school personnel to carry weapons. Curtis Compton/ccompton@ajc.com
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Armed teachers becomes reality in Georgia

Photo Credit: The Atlanta Journal-Constitution
Students pass by a Laurens County Sheriff’s deputy stationed at East Laurens High School on Tuesday, May 2, 2018, in Dublin. Laurens County is the first school district in Georgia to allow teachers and other school personnel to carry weapons. Curtis Compton/ccompton@ajc.com

Laurens is a rural county with a population of less than 50,000, with about 25 percent of those under 18. The spread of the county — its 807 square miles make it the third largest in the state — demonstrate a safety safety issue for it’s two high schools, two middle schools and four elementary schools.

It’s no secret that it can take more than half an hour to get from one of the high schools to the other, so emergency response times are an issue. The school doesn’t have school resource officers. It shares the cost of rotating Laurens County deputies among schools, but the officers also help police the rest of the county.

» MORE: Georgia’s law allows mentally ill to buy guns after 5 years

“Look at the shootings that have taken the most lives,” Brigman said. “The shooter was done in about 10 minutes.”

The sheriff’s department is working with Brigman to develop a training plan, but doesn’t want people to equate the teachers with what its deputies do.

Chief Deputy Stan Wright said, “We are the law enforcement, but arming the teachers is like giving them a tool that we hope will never need to be used.”

Not all police officers think it’s a tool teachers need.

Officer Donald Rene, a Fulton County Schools police officer, said he’d hate to add another duty to the long list already placed on teachers. “I don’t grade tests and (the teachers) shouldn’t carry guns,” he said.

The National Association of School Resource Officers and at least one of Georgia’s teacher associations are not in favor of arming teachers. But a recent poll by the Professional Association of Georgia Educators show that 53 percent of teachers would not carry a gun to school if permitted, but more than 17 percent said they would.

Katie Vanburen, who had a harrowing experience some years ago involving a gun in school, is for arming teachers.

“As long as it’s on a voluntary basis, with controls in place like requiring weapons to be holstered and secured with biometrics, agreements that use is for encounters with deadly weapons.” she said.

The Atlanta Journal-Constitution
May 2, 2018 Dublin: A student arriving for class holds the door for a Laurens County Sheriff’s deputy stationed at East Laurens High School on Tuesday, May 2, 2018, in Dublin. Laurens County is the first school district in Georgia to allow teachers and other school personnel to carry weapons. Curtis Compton/ccompton@ajc.com
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Armed teachers becomes reality in Georgia

Photo Credit: The Atlanta Journal-Constitution
May 2, 2018 Dublin: A student arriving for class holds the door for a Laurens County Sheriff’s deputy stationed at East Laurens High School on Tuesday, May 2, 2018, in Dublin. Laurens County is the first school district in Georgia to allow teachers and other school personnel to carry weapons. Curtis Compton/ccompton@ajc.com

Biometrically controlled guns use technology to keep unauthorized users from being able to fire a weapon, though the technology can be expensive and is not widely developed.

She was a student at Etowah High School in Cherokee County when Brian Head came to school on March 26, 1994, armed with a handgun.

“He ended up killing himself in the classroom the period before lunch. But not before he attempted to shoot my boyfriend, Keith Herring. He was friends with Keith and both Keith and our history teacher, Coach Watkins, tried to talk him down with a gun pointed in their faces,” she said.

“That day was chaos. A lot of changes have been put in place since then, and parents and teachers are wholly unappreciative of the work that’s already been done since then.”

Technology alone isn’t enough, in the mind of the school chief whose district pioneered arming teachers.

While horrific school shootings in Colorado, Connecticut and most recently Florida have become wake-up calls for community action, the so-called “Amish school massacre” in 2006, was the clarion call for a school superintendent 1,500 miles away in rural Texas. A delivery man who was known to the Amish community shot 11 little girls in a one-room schoolhouse, killing 5.

“I tried everything – bean bag guns, tranquilizer guns, cameras. I’ve got more cameras per square foot than probably any other school district – you name it,” said David Thweatt, superintendent of Harrold Independent Schools. In 2008, it became the first in Texas to arm teachers.

“The only thing that’s going to be 100 percent fool-proof is arming teachers with lethal force,” he said.

The identity of these so-called “guardians” are known only to the superintendent and the school board, who approve each individual.

Harrold hasn’t had an “active-shooter” incident, nor any weapons discharged on campus.

The Atlanta Journal-Constitution
May 2, 2018 Dublin: A Laurens County Sheriff’s deputy patrols West Laurens Middle School on Tuesday, May 2, 2018, in Dublin. Laurens County is the first school district in Georgia to allow teachers and other school personnel to carry weapons. Curtis Compton/ccompton@ajc.com
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Armed teachers becomes reality in Georgia

Photo Credit: The Atlanta Journal-Constitution
May 2, 2018 Dublin: A Laurens County Sheriff’s deputy patrols West Laurens Middle School on Tuesday, May 2, 2018, in Dublin. Laurens County is the first school district in Georgia to allow teachers and other school personnel to carry weapons. Curtis Compton/ccompton@ajc.com

Both Brigman and Thweatt believe arming teachers is an effective use of resources. For the cost of one full-time police officer, Thweatt said he can have about 20 people armed and trained to protect the school.

But some argue that it won’t save money in the long run: expenses such as insurance and training costs will eat short-term savings. Any school employee who carries a gun on campus raises insurance rates. Those who determine those costs say the presence of guns, no matter who carries them, makes any place susceptible to injury or death. Who pays for the insurance depends mainly on who that person works for — the school district, an independent law enforcement office such as city police or county sheriff or an independent security firm.

With Laurens being the first in the state planning armed teachers, the Georgia School Boards Association didn’t have figures available. “We are still exploring this to determine what the actual costs will be,” said spokesman Justin Pauly. “We anticipate it could be the same or similar to insuring School Resource Officers.”

Safety itself is another argument. Opponents fear authorizing guns for teachers will lead to innocent people getting hurt or killed.

No schools in the U.S. with armed teachers have had active-shooter events, but there have been gun mishaps.

A few weeks after the Parkland shooting, a teacher in a Northern California school accidentally discharged a firearm while teaching a public safety class. One student was injured by a bullet fragment or debris.

A third-grade boy in Minnesota was able to snake a finger into a school police officer’s holster earlier this year, firing one shot from the department-issued Glock 22 into the floor of the school gymnasium.

Closer to home, two Georgia teachers in the last twelve months brought guns to school illegally. One fired off a shot and the other tried unsuccessfully to commit suicide.

The Atlanta Journal-Constitution
Laurens County Superintendent Daniel Brigman is working with the sheriff’s department to develop procedures for teachers to carry guns on campus. The school board voted last month to allow it. Arlinda Smith Broady/abroady@ajc.com
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Armed teachers becomes reality in Georgia

Photo Credit: The Atlanta Journal-Constitution
Laurens County Superintendent Daniel Brigman is working with the sheriff’s department to develop procedures for teachers to carry guns on campus. The school board voted last month to allow it. Arlinda Smith Broady/abroady@ajc.com

Even those who’ve been face to face with a gunman don’t agree on the best course of action.

Antoinette Tuff, the bookkeeper at Ronald E. McNair Discovery Learning Academy who talked an armed man at the school into surrendering on Aug. 20, 2013, has become a national school safety advocate.

At the March For Our Lives Rally on March 24 on downtown Atlanta’s Liberty Plaza, she recalled telling the suicidal 20-year-old: ” ‘It’s going to be all right sweetie. I just want you to know that I love you…OK?’ “

She’s adamant that if she’d had a gun the situation wouldn’t have ended peacefully.

Michelle Haberland, a volunteer with the Georgia chapter of Moms Demand Action for Gun Sense in America, agrees.

“Arming educators is a bad idea, period. In fact, research shows that the presence of guns in schools will actually increase the risk to students,” she said. “Instead of doing dangerous things like arming teachers, our elected leaders should focus on passing policies to keep guns out of the hands of people with violent intentions.”

But eight-grader Tatiana Jones said she understands the benefits and the dangers.

“Having more people to help if a shooter comes to the school is a good thing, but teachers are human,” she said. “What if they snap and pull that gun on a student or someone else. If it came to my school I don’t think I’d be against it, but it would give me one more thing to worry about.”

The Atlanta Journal-Constitution
Parents at West Laurens Middle School are in line to pick up students after school. Arlinda Smith Broady/abroady@ajc.com
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Armed teachers becomes reality in Georgia

Photo Credit: The Atlanta Journal-Constitution
Parents at West Laurens Middle School are in line to pick up students after school. Arlinda Smith Broady/abroady@ajc.com

A recent poll by the Professional Association of Georgia Educators of 7,204 members across the state show:

— 53 percent of teachers would not carry a gun to school if permitted

— 20.8 maybe would carry a gun

— 8.7 percent probably would carry a gun

— 17.5 percent would carry a gun

*numbers are rounded and may not add up to 100 percent.

School gun carry laws by state

Crime Prevention Research Center, a national non-profit dedicated to research on the relationship between laws regulating the ownership or use of guns, crime, and public safety. It does not accept donations from gun or ammunition makers or organizations such as the NRA or any other organizations involved in the gun control debate on either side of the issue. It has compiled a list of school gun regulations by state.

Alabama (which bans possessing a weapon on school grounds only if the carrier has “intent to do bodily harm”)

Arkansas (with approval of the superintendent) — February 26, 2018. Teachers in 20 schools allowed to carry concealed handgun.

California had allowed concealed carry on school grounds until it passed a law in 2015 that required the approval of the school administrator. On October 14, 2017 a new law took away that authority from school administrators. Up until that date, five school districts allowed teachers or staff to carry concealed handguns.

Colorado (with approval of school board — Hanover School District, Fleming School District and Briggsdale School District)

Connecticut (with approval of school officials)

Georgia (with school board approval)

Hawaii (no specific law)

Idaho (with school trustees’ approval) some school districts allow staffers and teachers to carry

Indiana (2013 law that lets school boards decide)

Iowa (with authorization) — no district currently allows.

Kansas (school districts may allow employees with concealed-carry permits to carry guns on campus if the district does not have a policy prohibiting it)

Kentucky (with school board approval) Example: Pike County School District

Massachusetts (with approval of the school board or principal)

Michigan (as long as the gun is carried openly)

Minnesota (with approval of School Superintendent) — some do it

Mississippi (with school board approval)

Missouri (with school board approval) Crocker School Board has approved it

Montana (with school trustees’ permission) — In 2017, Belfry, Custer, and Lima school districts allowed teachers and staff members to carry. Another school district allowed a former teacher to carry. Two others allow current staff members to carry, but they weren’t currently carrying.

New Hampshire (ban applies only to pupils, not adults)

New Jersey (with approval from the school’s governing officer)

New York (with the school’s approval)

Ohio (with school board approval) — in 2015, at least 40 school districts in Ohio allow teachers to carry permitted concealed handguns. Right now there are reportedly over 100 school districts.

Oregon (any permit holders, some school districts prevent employees from carrying)

Rhode Island (with a state concealed weapons permit)

South Dakota (law authorizes districts to create, establish and supervise the arming of school employees, hired security personnel or volunteers.)

Tennessee (allows certain school employees to carry a firearm on school grounds if they are licensed, meet certain qualifications and have written authorization from authorities)

Texas (with the school’s permission) — Texas Association of School Boards says 172 school districts in Texas allow staff and board members to carry firearms onto school premises

Utah (any teacher or staff member with a concealed handgun permit can carry) — about 5 percent of the public school teachers in the state carry and about 10 percent to 12 percent of the support staff.

Washington (eight schools in the Toppenish School District have nineteen administrators who carry)

Wyoming (in 2017 a law was passed that left the decision up to the local school boards. 24 hours of training required.)

Source: Crime Prevention Research Center

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'I just was always into cats,' Chernoff says. 'Cats and Harleys and tattoos. That's what I'm into.' Chernoff's Facebook page is filled with photos of his cats, 11 of them, along with photos of his building projects. Motorcycles and military memorabilia are also heavily featured on his page. Last month, he posted a wedding photo of his parents, along with his Army basic training photo, writing that he had just stumbled upon the pictures. Chernoff was not married and had no immediate family left, according to Philadelphia's Jewish Exponent. 'We tried the best we could to keep him family-oriented because he had no parents, he had no siblings and he had no children,' Chernoff's cousin, Beverly Levin, told the Exponent. 'He was with us for Rosh Hashanah just last month. We kept him as close as we could because he was alone in the world.' Since his death, friends in the animal rescue community and beyond have mourned Chernoff on social media. They have also contributed more than $18,000 to a GoFundMe page set up by Levin's son, David Levin, to pay for Chernoff's funeral and provide for more cats to be rescued. 'Al's kids were his cats,' David Levin wrote on the fundraising page. A private donor, along with Chernoff's veteran benefits, have taken care of the cost of his funeral and memorial service, which is scheduled for Nov. 24 in Southampton. All the funds raised by the GoFundMe campaign will be distributed to multiple animal rescues, David Levin wrote in an update. Chernoff's 11 cats, along with three turtles and two frogs, were rescued from his home following his death. Friend and fellow rescuer Gwen Cooper wrote that she was “shocked and saddened beyond the telling of it” to learn of Chernoff’s death. 'Al was a fierce and tireless advocate for rescue cats -- one of the staunchest protectors of cats I've ever known -- and I was honored and privileged to count him among my personal friends in rescue for many years,' Cooper wrote. 'My heart goes out to the people and felines who knew and loved him best.' She said she was certain the 'veritable army of cats' he saved over the years were there to greet him on the 'rainbow bridge' when he died. Chernoff was also active in the Jewish war veterans' community, the Exponent reported. 'He went out of his way many a time for people who suffered what used to be called shell shock and what is now called PTSD (post-traumatic stress disorder),' M.B. Kanis, commander of the Jewish War Veterans Drizin-Weiss Post 215, told the publication. 'He recognized PTSD and knew that people with service animals could become more calm and relaxed and more focused. In the Philadelphia area, I know of at least three service veterans who he helped hands-on (with service animals).' Emily Petry, who described Chernoff as the 'best cat daddy ever,' said he was one of the kindest people she'd ever known. 'Nobody who ever knew you would have ever done you any harm,' Petry wrote. Ashley Foresta, a fellow animal rescuer in Philadelphia, told the Daily Mail she could not imagine why the 14-year-old suspect was in Chernoff's house. Foresta speculated that perhaps Chernoff had hired the girl to clean his home, but Branconi told the Mail he had never seen the girl at the duplex before. 'I just can't imagine for one minute that Al was the type of person who would have had an inappropriate relationship with a 14-year-old girl -- but at the same time I can't think of anyone ever having a reason to kill him,' Foresta said. 'To be honest, maybe part of me doesn't want to know the whole truth,' she said. Chernoff's family and friends weren't the only ones puzzled by his slaying. Coulter said last week that detectives were still piecing together what happened and why. 'Who it is, is identified, but the why and the rationale behind it is what the investigators are now working on,' Coulter told reporters. 'These things take time to get right. 'I know that everybody would like to have everything answered, and so would we, but we want to make sure that we do it in a way that the judicial process plays out fairly and everybody involved gets justice.
  • Lyft is eliminating its scooter operation in Atlanta, nearly a year after the devices were deployed in the city, a spokesperson confirmed Friday in an emailed statement to The Atlanta Journal-Constitution.  The electric scooters will leave the city Nov. 22. The company launched in Atlanta Dec. 21, just two days after rival Uber began its own scooter service in the city.  “We’re grateful to our scooter riders in Atlanta as well as our partners in Atlanta city government,” read the statement. “We look forward to continuing to provide riders with other modes of reliable transportation.” The decision comes amid discussions about Atlanta’s regulation of electric scooters. The city is considering reducing the number of scooter companies operating in the city. RELATED COVERAGE: City of Atlanta fails to collect $200K in scooter impound fees The Lyft spokesperson said they’re focusing on markets that have the biggest impact. The spokesperson also confirmed the company is eliminating services in five other cities, including Dallas, San Antonio and Nashville.  Twenty employees are expected to be laid off as a result of the decision.  Lyft is the latest micromobility company to leave Atlanta. Uber’s electric bikes, JUMP e-bikes, left the city in September.  Like Intown Atlanta News Now on Facebook | Follow us on Twitter In other news: