On Wednesday, the fourth anniversary of the shooting that killed 20 children and six employees at Sandy Hook Elementary School in Newtown, Conn., Hanover School District 28's board will decide whether to arm teachers and other staff at school.

Concerns about mass shootings are only part of what's fueling the proposal to allow employees to carry concealed handguns.

"It's more what's coming into the neighborhoods," board member Michael Lawson said at the November board meeting.

Specifically, the marijuana grows.

Large cultivation operators have set up shop within a few miles of schools on the rural eastern plains of El Paso County, he said.

"There are three (grows) within 2 miles of the school," Lawson said Monday. "The Cuban and Colombian cartels are buying up land to grow marijuana in Colorado. We need to look at the safety of the schools and the kids."

Hanover D-28, which has about 270 students, has never had an attack from an intruder, said Superintendent Grant Schmidt. The district does have a school resource officer, who is an El Paso County Sheriff's deputy, on staff.

But it can take emergency vehicles and law enforcement about 30 minutes or more to reach the junior-senior high school, Schmidt said. That's the major reason for the proposed resolution, he said, adding that since it's such a controversial topic, he's not taking sides.

"I figure it's best determined by the local board, so I'm taking a neutral position and will follow their lead," he said.

Lawson, a National Rifle Association firearms instructor and volunteer firefighter, brought up the idea at the June board meeting. Members have been discussing the issue since then and are scheduled to vote Wednesday night.

"I don't care if any of the staff ever pick up a gun," Lawson said. "The fact that you have a 'No guns' sign at your front door is an invitation. If this resolution passes, we can put up a sign, 'Some staff at this school may be armed.' To me, that's a deterrent."

Colorado law does not allow carrying concealed firearms on public elementary and secondary school property, unless the person is a security guard for the school.

The resolution Hanover D-28's five-member board of education will consider would allow "one or more employees of the district to be designated as security guards and authorized to carry firearms on school property."

Should the resolution pass with a majority vote, interested teachers and other staff would need to possess or obtain a concealed handgun permit, be approved by the board for security guard status and take post-certification training that includes instruction on shooting a firearm.

Employees would not be identified as carrying a concealed weapon and would have to undergo an annual updating of their credentials. The resolution would take effect immediately.

"This is a good place to learn and grow up," said Lawson, whose children graduated from Hanover D-28. "Doing this would deter most criminals. You're not going to get all of them, but if we can turn around most of them, it's a victory."

Opinions evenly divided

Board President Mark McPherson said he won't support the resolution no matter what. He doesn't think it's necessary.

"We haven't seen the need, and I think arming individuals who are not trained to operate with weapons on a daily basis puts everybody in the building at risk," he said. "As a retired Army officer, I would never arm our employees."

Instead, McPherson favors hiring another school resource officer.

That would cost up to $55,000 a year, according to Schmidt, an expense some board members said the district would be pressed to find in its budget.

Schmidt said reactions to arming teachers have been mixed.

"On the side of yes, they like the fact that in their opinion it will keep kids safer," he said.

"On the no side, people are saying in their opinion, they're not sure how fully capable all staff members are in carrying a concealed weapon, in terms of making the right judgment calls, even though they will be trained," Schmidt said.

A recent survey D-28 conducted showed that students, parents, staff and community members are split almost evenly.

The survey, which asked, "Are you in favor of arming staff?" generated 249 responses. Of those, 123 answered no and 126 said yes.

There were more no votes from the elementary school community and more yes votes from the junior-senior high school community, Schmidt said.

Of the 51 staff, 40 responded, in a dead heat, with 20 saying yes and 20 saying nay to the idea.

Among third- through 12th-grade students who filled out the questionnaire, 62 said no and 55 said yes.

From parents, 30 don't want staff to be armed and 39 do.

Lawson said he believes the question was poorly worded.

"I think it would have been much more in favor had the question been, 'With proper training and education, are you for or against arming staff?'" he said.

"It looked like we're just going to give guns to staff, and nothing could be further from the truth."

Other districts have guns

Hanover D-28 would be the first public school district in the Pikes Peak region to permit teachers and other employees that are not traditionally deemed security guards to carry concealed weapons.

But it wouldn't be the first in the state; several districts have policies in place.

The five-member board of Fleming Schools in Frenchman School District RE-3 in the northeast corner of Colorado, unanimously approved a similar resolution in July.

"We're in the process of getting our staff members trained," said Superintendent Steve McCracken.

The resolution allows staff who receive additional training, on top of concealed carry permitting, to carry concealed handguns on campus.

It doesn't mean community members can, McCracken said.

Declining to say how many of the 25 staff have signed up for the program, McCracken said his small district of about 203 students also is isolated and also has never had any security breach but wants to be proactive.

The community has been supportive of the move "for the most part," he said.

"Schools are doing whatever they need to do to help keep their students and staff safe," McCracken said.

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