School security guards to carry guns in Emporia

WICHITA, Kan. (AP) - Emporia school officials have decided to allow security guards at the district's high school and middle school to carry guns, as districts across Kansas re-evaluate safety protocols in the wake of the Connecticut school massacre.

"A number of districts throughout the state are reviewing their safety and security plans, their crisis plans" after the shooting on Dec. 14 that left 20 children and six staff members dead at Sandy Hook Elementary School in Newtown, Conn., said Donna Whiteman, attorney for the Kansas Association of School Boards.

The Emporia school district's board of education voted Wednesday to allow its security guards, who are school employees, to carry guns starting Feb. 1. The guards would have to meet new job requirements that include law enforcement experience and training.

Emporia mother Sherry Willard has a 15-year-old son who attends high school and a 13-year-old son who goes to the middle school. Willard, who works as a medical technician for the Kansas Air National Guard, said she is happy with the new policy for armed guards as long as the district maintains strict job qualifications.

"I am not naive enough just to think that because we have armed guards in school things cannot happen," Willard said, noting the school does not have things such as metal detectors. "Do I feel a little more secure? Probably. But not to the point where I have this false sense of security."

Emporia had already been considering arming its security officers before the Connecticut shooting, and many other Kansas districts already have armed school resource officers who are either employed by the district or by local law enforcement agencies who share their costs with the schools.

It is unclear exactly how many officers are armed because the state's 286 school districts do not have to report that to state regulators, and Kansas' open meetings laws allow districts to discuss security plans behind closed doors.

Kansas school districts now directly employ the full-time equivalent of 151 security officers and 42 school resource officers, said Kathy Toelkes, spokeswoman for the Kansas Department of Education. That number does not include school resource officers who are active police officers working at the schools under cooperative agreements with law enforcement.

Wichita's school district, for example, for years has had an agreement with local police for armed school resource officers in addition to its own district-employed, unarmed security officers.

Two of Emporia's three security officers are retired police officers who already meet the new job qualifications and will be allowed to carry guns at the high school, said Nancy Horst, spokeswoman for the Emporia schools.

Emporia had school resource officers in the past, but dropped them after federal grants to help pay for them went away, said Andy Koenigs, associate superintendent for personnel at Emporia.

Whiteman, the Kansas Association of School Boards attorney, said budget woes have forced many Kansas districts to cut back on such administrative costs and only the bigger school districts with large enrollments can now afford school resource officers.

"When push comes to shove, they would rather have a teacher in the classroom," she said.

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