School district opts to arm staff members

BRIDGEPORT The school district in Newcomerstown recently approved a measure that will allow staff members to carry firearms on school property.

It’s a move designed to increase student safety and one part of an overall revamped safety protocol; one that also includes a new buzzer system and new safety procedures.

It’s a bold move, one that may see an increasing number of districts gravitate toward.

“I think it was something they felt they wanted to do and their community supports it,” Ted Downing, the superintendent for Bridgeport Exempted Village School District said. “I understand them wanting to do that and I think you’ll see more and more schools do it.

“It boils down to each community and board and how they feel.”

The Newcomerstown school board had discussed the measure previously but the movement really began when a citizen’s group approached the board about arming staff.

Amongst their reasons, group members cited a New York Daily News report that stated that, since 1950, every shooting incident with at least three or more fatalities had occurred in a place where people were not allowed to carry guns.

This new move allows for an unspecified number of staff members to carry on-site. The specifics of how many, who they are and what buildings they work in will only be known to a select few.

Those cleared to carry will have to obtain a concealed carry permit, as well as undergo tactical training by the Tuscarawas Sheriff’s Department every year, a stipulation Downing feels is crucial. They also must undergo Active Shooter Response training from the Ohio Attorney General’s office.

“They have to be taken through the proper training,” Downing said. “You don’t just arm someone I know myself and several of our staff have our (concealed carry) permits, but you need more training than that.”

It’s a move that has been discussed in passing at Bridgeport and a lot of other local schools although no formal moves have been made.

Downing said his district is still focused on trying to obtain a resource officer.

That move took a hit during the spring primary election when citizens voted down a levy that would have funded a resource officer for the district’s campus.

Now, Downing explained Bridgeport and a few other districts in Belmont County are waiting to hear back on a grant application that would provide an officer from the Belmont County Sheriff’s Office to serve as a resource officer for the school building.

“If we don’t get that grant, we’ll sit down and discuss all other options at that point,” Downing noted. “But (arming the staff) isn’t something we’ve actually sit down and discussed at length.

“Our main focus has been the resource officer and constantly re-evaluating our (safety) plan that we have. It’s an ongoing process because you want to stay ahead of the game and make sure both your kids and staff are safe.”

Bridgeport’s main building that houses K-12 is less than 10 years old. It’s locked down during the school day and features cameras throughout the campus. The board was able to pay to have a resource officer on-site last school year but needed the levy to pass to continue doing so in the 2013-14 school year.

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