JENKINS TWP. — State Rep. Kevin Haggerty told a television audience Thursday he does not believe schools should be required to staff armed guards, but he said funding should be in place if school administrators feel they are needed.
In a WVIA-TV panel discussion, Haggerty, D-Lackawanna, said he is promoting a bill under review in the state Education Committee to provide a $90 million annual state allotment to post armed guards in elementary schools.
“As a father … I do believe in armed security at our elementary schools across Pennsylvania,” Haggerty said. “But as a state representative, it is not my role to do that.”
Superintendents and school members should make that decision, he said.
Haggerty, along with state Sen. Lisa Baker, R-Lehman Township, former U.S. Congressman Chris Carney, of Dimock, and Lakeland School District Superintendent Margaret Billings-Jones fielded questions from TV viewers over the phone and from moderator Bill Kelly, WVIA-TV president, during the public channel’s “State of Pennsylvania” program.
Carney, no longer in Washington, but a legislator who was given a National Rifle Association A-rating for his Second Amendment advocacy, said, even after the recent elementary school shooting in Newport, Conn., his opinion has not changed. He does not believe armed guards are the school-safety solution.
Baker said untrained guards who are unfamiliar with student and faculty needs are her greatest concern.
“We need very well-trained resource officers and individuals who have the proper Act 120 training,” Baker said referring to the basic police firearms training. “I’m very concerned about extending that to individuals who have not had that training.”
Billings-Jones, the superintendent praised for her quick action to post police officers at her district’s elementary school immediately after the Sandy Hook shooting, said the immediate security need outranked the need for proper training.
Speaking from the audience, Nick DeSando, a former armed resource officer in Lackawanna County who is seeking election to be Lackawanna County sheriff, affirmed the need for training. He took up his post between Dunmore High School and the elementary school after the Columbine High School shooting in 1999, he said.
“You don’t have to be armed, but you have to be prepared to handle a threat,” DeSando said.
Violent video games, media outlets too speedy to report on violence and declining morals in the home were all blamed with causing more frequent school violence.
One caller said that, during the years she attended school, a Bible sat on every teacher’s desk, and she seemed to suggest faith in schools could be a solution.
While Billings-Jones said it might be decades before Bibles are allowed in schools again, and Kelly suggested that it probably will never happen, Carney said Bibles would be meaningless because there is no context.
“The Bible on a desk doesn’t mean anything to a kid who doesn’t know what a Bible is,” Carney said.
From the audience, Ned Evans, former Wilkes-Barre Area teacher and principal, suggested stricter entrance screenings with a double-gated metal detector to catch ill-intended intruders before they reach the hallways.
One caller mentioned dogs and said the military and law enforcement rely heavily on K-9 units. Billings-Jones responded by mentioning the possibility of students with childhood pet allergies, and Haggerty said many children and some adults are afraid of dogs. However, the idea lingered over the room, and it was clear some were toying with it.
Baker suggested that legislators should seek alternatives to arming guards and also said danger awareness in schools has to improve. Some disasters might be avoided simply if faculty and staff were more aware of possible danger and took appropriate measures — some as simple as routinely locking doors during class time.
Haggerty, a father of two young children and a freshman Harrisburg lawmaker, said as he pursues his bill, he is learning about other ways fortify school buildings. Ultimately, he wants to see children protected.
High school students understand danger when it is in front of them, he said, but young children might have a harder time recognizing evil.
Haggerty looked at his fellow panelists at one point. “I’m never going to stop pursuing the right thing,” he said. “I don’t know if what I’m dong is the right thing … but I’m listening.”