Cobb School Board authorizes superintendent to arm staff in wake of Uvalde tragedy

Chris Ragsdale at school board meetingCobb school superintendent Chris Ragsdale (screenshot)

By Rebecca Gaunt

A policy allowing the superintendent to authorize specific district employees to carry guns on Cobb County school property passed Thursday, as members of the audience protested so vehemently that the board struggled to hear the motions being made.

Under the policy, the superintendent will have the power to authorize armed personnel, approve the training, substitute prior law enforcement or military training for certain training requirements, and approve the type and quantity of weapons and ammunition.

During Thursday’s afternoon work session, Superintendent Chris Ragsdale amended one of the policy’s conditions that would have allowed him to make exceptions to the provision that staff whose primary responsibility is classroom supervision wouldn’t be authorized to carry a gun. He reiterated his statement from last month’s meeting that teachers would not be armed.

The speed with which the measure, introduced the same day, headed for a vote, prompted audience members in the evening voting session to interrupt proceedings by chanting “Delay the vote!” Board chair David Chastain called for a five minute recess in response.

When they returned, the chanting continued as the board fought to be heard over the disruption.

Dr. Jaha Howard, participating by phone, made a motion to postpone the vote until August. There was a moment of confusion as David Banks raised his hand to vote for postponement along with Tre’ Hutchins and Howard, then put his hand back down. It failed 4-2.

The measure then passed 4-2 with Chastain, Banks, Randy Scamihorn and Brad Wheeler in support and Howard and Hutchins opposed. Charisse Davis was not present due to illness.

The Authorization of Enhanced Security policy states that “pursuant to O.C.G.A. 16-11-130.1, the Superintendent may authorize certain personnel to possess or carry weapons on any property or in any building owned or leased by the District, at a school function, in school safety zones, or on a bus or other transportation furnished by the District.”

Ragsdale explained that they would all be employees of the district and report to public safety.

“If the board gave me a blank check and said go hire a school resource officer for every school, we could certainly post for those positions, but we would not be able to hire those positions. Quite simply, this policy gives us other opportunities to enhance and increase the number of school resource officers in our district,” Ragsdale said. “Chief Storey is the gatekeeper. He will determine the qualification and the proposal recommendation to have anyone else armed.”

Ron Storey is the chief of the Cobb County School District Police Department.

An annual background check and a psychological evaluation will be part of the hiring process.

No CCSD employee will be required to carry a gun.

One public commenter called the policy “vastly, wrongly open ended.”

Another commenter asked the board to take time to craft a clearer policy.

Parent Alicia Belleza-Watts asked for more transparency about which staff members would be armed. (screenshot)

Parent Alicia Bellezza-Watts asked the board, “What information will we, the parents, have about these extra armed individuals that you are proposing to bring on campus? Given that this policy specifically prohibits accessing any information about this topic via open records requests, how will we know who or how many armed individuals our students may be coming into contact with each day?”

The policy contains the following language that would conceal the identities of those employees:

All records regarding the appointment of individual employees and the implementation of this program shall be exempt from production under the Open Records Act as specified in Georgia law.”

Read the original unamended policy here. Per the discussed changes, insert a period after “weapons” in line 16. Strike the remainder of 16 and lines 17 and 18.

Rebecca Gaunt earned a degree in journalism from the University of Georgia and a master’s degree in education from Oglethorpe University. After teaching elementary school for several years, she returned to writing. She lives in Marietta with her husband, son, two cats, and a dog. In her spare time, she loves to read, binge Netflix and travel.