As school bells rang in the start of spring classes on Monday, Ahwatukee Foothills students trickled into campus from a two-week break over the holidays.
The normal routine repeated every year, however, was different this time as principals and other school staff reassessed their perspectives on campus security following Attorney General Tom Horne’s Dec. 26 proposal to train and arm at least one school official on campus in light of the Connecticut elementary school shooting.
According to Horne’s proposal, schools that want to participate can choose the principal or another designee to receive free training in the use of firearms and how to handle emergencies.
Just before second period classes were switching on Jan. 7, Bruce Kipper, principal of Ahwatukee's Mountain Pointe High School, said he prefers long-trained professionals to handle and use firearms on school grounds.
“I think (the proposal) is a bad idea, handling guns is no easy task,” Kipper said.
Principal Dr. Anna Battle of nearby Desert Vista High School said she too is apprehensive about being trained and given a gun.
“Being trained to use a firearm is not a bad thing, however, actually using it and having it is different,” said Battle. “These circumstances have already changed the safe perception of school in general.”
The Attorney General’s Office said in a press release that the proposal was a “golden mean” between two extremes, one extreme noted is allowing all teachers to bring guns into schools, or making no changes in security measures.
With the number of school resource officers being cut by almost half in the state and Phoenix area in recent years due to lack of funding, the proposal was aiming to be a solution to less officers in schools.
In Ahwatukee, both Desert Vista and Mountain Pointe high schools have full-time resource officers from the Phoenix Police Department. Officer Boyd Chesley, who works at Mountain Pointe, said he foresees a push from the public to fund school resource officers program grants.
“School resource officers act as a deterrent, every school needs one,” said Chesley, who also worked for Kyrene Centennial Middle School.
Kyrene School District, which serves Ahwatukee and parts of Tempe and Chandler, currently has no school resource officers on staff at any of its elementary or middle schools.
Arizona House Democrat Chad Campbell said in a Dec. 21 press release that he’d like to see a revival in funding for the school resource officers grant, and will be announcing a “Safer Schools, Safer Communities” plan this week that will include a plan for funding. The Arizona Foundation for Legal Services and Education provides the grant that funds a majority of the school resource officers in Arizona. Other officers can be funded from either a school district or city.
Kyrene Assistant Superintendent Gina Taylor said she too is against the idea of being trained and armed. As a former principal, she remembered the value of school resource officers on campus. Taylor added that the amount of training and experience a law enforcement official has to respond in emergency situations is far more effective than having teachers bring firearms to school with little training.
Though she fully supported school resource officers in schools, Taylor said she was concerned about where funding would come from to revive the program.
“Safety and security is and has always been important to Kyrene, but what would be eliminated to fund the grant?” said Taylor, mentioning that most schools are having trouble as it is with budgets and running current programs.
Effective Monday, Kyrene implemented new front-office security procedures that required all visitors to sign in and present a photo ID.
Over at Mountain Pointe, as students carried on about their first day back, Kipper walked the halls greeting his students on their way to class.
“I don’t know what the answer is but there has got to be a better way to deal with this.”
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