By Sean Murphy
OKLAHOMA CITY —
A bill that would have allowed public school districts across Oklahoma to decide whether to let teachers be armed in classrooms won’t be granted a hearing in the Senate and likely is dormant this session, the chairman of the Senate Education Committee said Monday.
Sen. John Ford did not grant the bill a hearing in his committee Monday and said he doesn’t expect it will be reassigned to another committee before a Thursday deadline. Ford, R-Bartlesville, said he deferred instead to the recommendations of a special 22-member school safety task force formed in the wake of last year’s deadly school shooting in Newtown, Conn.
“My approach on school safety and security was to look at what this task force recommended, and it made no recommendations on firearms in schools,” Ford told The Associated Press. “Therefore, I think we really need to focus on what the experts said to make our schools safe.”
The school safety task force recommended the creation of a school security institute and mental health training for school staffs, along with mandating school intruder drills at public schools, the establishment of a school security tip line to report suspicious activity and a requirement that any firearm discovered on school grounds be reported to law enforcement.
“We support the lieutenant governor’s task force in trying to do things that promote public safety, particularly in schools,” Jeff Mills, executive director of the Oklahoma State School Boards Association, said in response to Ford’s decision. “I think that’s the better route to go right now. And then we can make more sound decisions later.”
The bill to allow armed teachers in schools, which was opposed by many school officials because of safety and liability concerns, was well-supported in the House. It easily cleared the Public Safety Committee and breezed through the full House on a 68-23 vote.
Rep. Mark McCullough, the author of the bill, said he believes children in public schools are still vulnerable.
“It’s very important to understand this: Our children are not protected in our schools from violent threats,” said McCullough, R-Sapulpa. “That’s the elephant in the living room. We don’t want to talk about it. We don’t want to think about it.
“I think the public needs to chime in on whether they’d like to see this go forward.”
Several rural and urban superintendents praised Ford’s decision, voicing discomfort with allowing more guns in schools.
“It’s wonderful news,” said Sandra Park, deputy superintendent of 44,000 students in Oklahoma City Public Schools. “We of course want our students to be safe every day. We believe there’s other things we could be doing.”
In Bartlesville, schools saw increased police presence after two gun-related threats late last year. A high school senior was arrested Dec. 14 for a plot to trap and kill other students and police officers. A few days later, the district was locked down after two men with a gun were spotted near a school. Shortly afterward, McCullough’s bill was introduced.
“Right away, our superintendent was asked pointedly about (this proposal),” the northeast Oklahoma district’s spokesman Chris Taney said. “He said he really doesn’t want our schools, our teachers, our students to feel like there’s a bunker mentality.”
But in the southwest corner of the state, Duke Public Schools Superintendent Kevin Cansler had mixed feelings about the decision. Police can take up to half an hour to reach schools in his tiny district, which has about 200 students, he said.
“We just had a meeting with them last Wednesday” about response times, he said. “They said it just depends where they are in the county.”
The Senate Education Committee did approve a separate proposal Monday that would let the state’s private schools choose whether to allow concealed firearms on their grounds. That bill cleared the panel without opposition and now heads to the full Senate.
Sen. Greg Treat, R-Oklahoma City, told the AP after Monday’s hearing that his bill, unlike McCullough’s, was not a specific response to the Newtown shooting.
“I believe it’s a very important private property right to be able to say whether or not people can carry guns — if they can carry guns in your house, if they can carry guns in your mall, if they can carry guns in your church,” he said. “The fundamentals of private property rights don’t change no matter what’s going on inside that business.”
Associated Press writer Dan Holtmeyer contributed to this report.
House Bill 1062: http://bit.ly/12NIL9e
House Bill 1622: http://bit.ly/Y9JUAo