By: Stacy Walenter
The Troy School Board Safety Committee met on Wednesday, March 21 at the Troy High School Library.
At the regular School Board meeting, Troy resident and mother Jennifer Meyer had presented a petition of 200 signatures that showed people in support of teacher concealed carry at Troy school campuses. Several citizens in attendance at that meeting were in agreement with Meyer’s idea.
However, as word of the petition spread throughout Troy, a different contingent of citizens began its own petition in opposition to teachers carrying guns.
Superintendent Jacob Francom opened the Safety Meeting with an NBC news clip about “America’s Safest School” in Shelbyville, Indiana. The school has an extensive camera system connected to the sheriff’s office, bullet-resistant doors, teachers carry panic buttons that can immediately set off the school’s security system, and switches in each classroom that can be flipped depending on whether the classroom is safe or if they can see the intruder.
Additionally, the hallways are equipped with “Hot Zones” – smoke bombs in the ceiling that can be detonated to blind and disorient an intruder.
While the $400,000 price tag seems out of Troy’s league, the meeting aimed to present numerous ideas and avenues to explore.
The majority of the citizens in attendance at the meeting were those who were against teachers carrying guns. School Board members Hy Boltz and Jan Fontaine were present at the newly formed committee, as well as Francom and high school vice principal Christina Schertel.
Boltz said that the committee was actually meeting earlier than planned because of public interest in the gun issue. Francom presented an email from former Troy City Council member Fran McCully, who wrote to say she had no problem with arming teachers.
The committee immediately opened the floor to hear residents’ concerns.
Many of those speaking were current and former teachers in the district.
First to speak was former Troy High School English teacher Andrea Kensler-Chiaverini, who said, “As a former teacher and mom, I was horrified that there were people in our community that wanted teachers armed.”
Former teacher Don Meyers said he would have been uncomfortable with a gun on his person because of his proximity to children during the school day.
Another former teacher, Tess Jones said, “I cannot imagine ever having to carry any weapon. What kind of weapon would a teacher carry?” Jones went on to say that she didn’t think a pistol carried by a teacher could stop an automatic weapon and that she felt the school should focus on helping kids emotionally.
The call for a focus on mental help over weapons was a theme for attendees. There was also a desire to improve the security of school buildings.
Morrison kindergarten teacher Rachel Root stressed that the elementary building needed a new, more secure door system. She also said that, instead of guns, the school should invest in a full-time psychiatrist, instead of just a part-time counselor.
“Instead of preventing the problem, you’re already expecting it.” Root said.
Resident and mother Josie Hermes also disagreed with guns in the schools.
“Putting guns in teachers’ hands?” Hermes questioned. “That’s not what they’re here for.”
Troy City Council member Shawna Kelsey also attended and presented the anti-gun petition of about 108 signatures that had been collected since last week’s meeting.
“I think it’s great that so many want to make the school safer and be here and share ideas,” Kelsey said. “I feel like it would be reckless to allow teachers to carry guns. We wouldn’t feel comfortable having our kids in a school system that allowed that.”
Kelsey said if the school implements teacher concealed carry, the decision should be backed by “a ton of evidence” that showed it would be effective.
Kelsey also read a letter from Jeff Ferderer, who coached and taught in Troy for 14 years and currently teaches in Everett, Washington.
“Schools throughout the world are symbolic of a safe place, a place of innocence and inspiration,” Federer wrote. “As dramatic as it seems, arming teachers would be an equally symbolic gesture, turning it from a symbol of innocence into a symbolic war zone.”
Cory Meyer, husband of Jennifer Meyer, told the group that an armed school resource officer in Maryland had recently killed a 17-year-old attacker after he shot two students. One of the victims later died.
“The only thing that takes out an armed assailant is an armed good guy,” Meyer said. “We’re afraid to send our kids to school.”
The school resource officer at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School in Parkland, Florida was criticized for never entering the building where 19-year-old Nikolas Cruz killed 14 students and three staff members.
High School counselor Kelly Palmer said that he would not be against training someone to be armed in the school. Palmer said that an active shooter training that staff participated in was terrifying. He also said he knows the committee members have a difficult decision to make.
“What I can’t abide is for us to stand by and do nothing because we’re divided,” Palmer said. “Let’s not do nothing.”
Mark Roesler-Begalke, who is a member of the Troy School Board, but came to the meeting to represent only himself as a father and teacher, urged the committee to make a decision based on statistics and facts, not emotions.
Using information from EverytownReserach.org, Roesler-Begalke said the likelihood of being shot at a school is .0021%. He said that 95% of shooters attend the school and that communities need to think more about mental health issues.
Roseler-Begalke’s wife, Mellonie, who is a preschool teacher at Morrison Elementary said, “I absolutely would not want to have someone armed. A school is no place to have a gun.”
Jennifer Meyer, who said she feels like she has had a target on her back since starting the petition, reiterated that she would still like to see someone armed in the schools.
“I would like it to be a school resource officer,” Meyer said. “We have to protect our kids.”
Citizen and father Haakon Karuzas suggested that pepper spray might be a better, non-lethal option. Both Karuzas and Palmer noted that adrenaline has a negative influence on accuracy in stressful situations, which could be deadly with a firearm and an untrained individual.
“With pepper spray,” Karuzas said, “a kid would go home having had a really bad day, but he’d go home alive.”
Superintendent Francom introduced two other options that the school is exploring. One is Texas’s School Marshal program. He said a similar proposal is being introduced in Montana.
Under the Texas plan, a marshal must be an employee of the school, must have a license to carry, must pass a psychological examination, and must attend an 80-hour School Marshal course.
Francom said the school also planned to undergo a National School Shield Security assessment, a program which is funded by the National Rifle Association (NRA). Mark Roesler-Begalke questioned the effectiveness of a pro-gun group impartially evaluating a school and providing a plan that did not include guns.
Community member Jessie Grossman suggested that the school attempt to find a similar assessment program for evaluating mental health issues in the school.
The last part of the meeting opened the discussion further concerning what, as a community, could be done to help at-risk youth and deter a serious event. Morrison Elementary paraprofessional Wendy Tunison was moved to tears considering the plight of many students in Troy.
“[At school], we love those kids like they’re our own,” Tunison said. “However, once those kids leave our doors, we need the community to love them, too. I’ve had kids come to my door at 11pm who are eight or nine-years-old looking for food, looking for a place to sleep, or because they had a fight with their family. We need to reach out to these kids that have no support from home.”
Genevra Dumond suggested having Safe Houses in the community. She said these homes could be marked with a symbol and a child in crisis would know they could seek help there.
Shawna Kelsey mentioned a program where all adults in Troy could learn the names of the children and say hello to them to help them feel seen. She didn’t know how the plan could be implemented, though.
The meeting closed with the majority of the 25 people in attendance agreeing that the mental health of students should be a priority and that psychological services would be the most effective way of ensuring a tragedy doesn’t take place. Palmer added he’d like to see those services expanded to include the community, as often bullying is modeled by adults.