Schools increasing security before students return

Posted:

CUMMING, Ga. — Weapons are not allowed at Forsyth County Public Schools, but the recent gun law changes have parents and educators talking about the issue.

On April 23, Gov. Nathan Deal signed the Safe Carry Protection Act, effective July 1, allowing Georgia residents with concealed carry permits to take guns into some bars, churches, school zones, government buildings and certain parts of airports.

Deal said the law gives about 500,000 state residents with concealed carry permits who have played by the rules the added protections to protect themselves and others against those who don’t.

The law allows any “duly authorized official of a public or private elementary or secondary school or a public or private technical school, vocational school, college, university or other institution of post-secondary education or a local board of education” to bring guns to school as long as the school board allows it.

The Forsyth County School Board does not allow weapons of any kind on school property, said Jennifer Caracciolo, a school board spokeswoman.

There are no plans to change the board’s position, she said.

But Forsyth County resident Todd Hegi, who has two students in the school system, said he thinks the school board should reconsider.

“In virtually every school shooting scenario, the event only ended when a good guy with a gun showed up and the perpetrators either killed themselves or were killed,” Hegi said. “I want the good guys with the guns to be there always.”

Hegi said if school staff is trained properly, they should be allowed to bring guns to school.

Cumming resident Rita Berryman, who has four children in school, agrees.

“Never in a million years did I think I would say this, but in light of the tragedy at Sandy Hook and the other numerous school shootings, I think teachers and other faculty need to be better equipped to keep our children safe,” she said.

Other parents and some residents feel the new law creates a bigger risk by giving students easier access to guns.

“On the surface, it sounds like a good idea with the rash of school shootings over the years, and it may deter kids from contemplating similar attacks,” said a Forsyth County resident, parent and community coach for one of the schools. “If we dig a little deeper, this will ultimately backfire and actually give kids more access to guns in the schools we are trying to protect.

“The last thing we need is every teacher or school employee going out and getting a concealed carry permit, so they can tote at school,” he said.

Otwell Middle School teacher Tracey Smallwood said she wouldn’t feel comfortable carrying a gun at school.

“I am entrusted with the well-being of my students and would not want to be responsible for the risks involved,” Smallwood said.

Smallwood said she’s not opposed to school security officers in addition to the Forsyth County Sheriff’s Office and the school principal carrying.

“As long as they’ve had extensive training,” Smallwood said. “I’m comfortable with it.”

Caracciolo said in light of the new gun law, the school board is taking steps to increase security in the schools.

“Last summer, we added controlled entrances to all elementary schools, and this summer, similar work is being completed at all middle schools,” she said.

She said schools with multiple buildings and trailers like North, Forsyth Central, West and South high schools are also being addressed.

“Their campuses will be secured with new construction funded by the recently approved bond referendum,” she said. “The new construction will connect portions of the facility and have new buzz-in entrances.

“Lambert already has the new security entrance,” she said.

Caracciolo said the work on the high school campuses is extensive and is scheduled for completion over the next four years.

FH-7-30