SPLC condemns Cobb County School Board’s decision to arm non-police personnel

The logo on front of a Cobb County School District facilityCobb County School District sign (photo by Larry Felton Johnson)

By Rebecca Gaunt

The Cobb County school board’s decision to arm school employees endangers lives, the Southern Poverty Law Center said in a statement released today.

With a vote of 4-2 along partisan lines, the Cobb County school board authorized Superintendent Chris Ragsdale to arm non-police staff members. Teachers will not be armed.

Read the original unamended policy here (and read the article in the link above for the changes to the original).

The Authorization of Enhanced Security policy grants the superintendent 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.

Board members Dr. Jaha Howard and Leroy “Tre’” Hutchins attempted to postpone the vote until August, but Howard’s motion was defeated.

The statement from SPLC states:

Over community objections, the Cobb County School Board last night approved a policy that allows the district superintendent to authorize certain school employees to carry guns on school property, including school buses, and at school events.

The following statement is from Mike Tafelski, senior supervising attorney for the Southern Poverty Law Center:

We remain deeply concerned about the actions of certain Cobb County School Board members and Superintendent Chris Ragsdale that continue to prove that they are incapable of acting in the best interest of students. This was the case when they refused to enforce CDC recommendations to prevent the spread of COVID-19 and their continued enforcement of discriminatory policies and practices. The recent decision to arm school employees is no different.

Instead of addressing the root causes of the nation’s gun violence epidemic, the board’s majority conservative voting bloc passed a policy that would expose students and teachers to more gun violence. The policy is backed by Superintendent Ragsdale and allows him to authorize school employees to carry guns in schools, on school buses and at school events. This, coupled with several other recent decisions that harm students, demonstrates that Superintendent Ragsdale is unable to make sound decisions to protect Cobb County students.

These school board members routinely enact school policies that are ineffective for the stated goals. To be clear, more guns, more police, and more punishment do not make schools safer. The new policy is not rooted in data, community input, or evidence-based solutions. And, not surprisingly, it will endanger lives and disproportionately impact students of color and students with disabilities who are already subjected to discriminatory discipline and over-policing in the district.

The community has been vocal about their opposition to the policy, even offering the board safer alternatives that are proven to help curb gun violence such as mental health support and the Be Smart Framework which encourages gun safety in homes. But Superintendent Ragsdale and the board’s white majority once again chose to ignore them and as well as calls by the board’s Black members to delay the vote.

The biggest threat facing Cobb County students is Chris Ragsdale and the board majority who continue to refuse to listen to community concerns and embrace evidence-based practices. But it is not too late for them to change course. We urge board members and Superintendent Ragsdale to abandon this policy immediately. And instead work with the community and experts to come up with better solutions.”

Local candidates and elected officials also posted their reactions on social media Friday.

During a live streamed meeting recap Friday, Hutchins said, “Do I believe we need additional measures, enhanced security measures in our schools? Yes. Do I think that having non-POST certified officers doing that, that will carry a firearm–I’m just not there.”

Alisha Thomas Searcy, a former state legislator who is currently challenging incumbent Richard Woods for state school superintendent, spoke against it during public comment at the board meeting. Friday she posted on Facebook, “There’s no doubt we must keep our students safe. Untrained employees without law enforcement training is NOT the way to go. Let’s focus on prevention.”

Alisha Thomas Searcy, candidate for state superintendent, spoke against the policy Thursday.

Howard wrote, “We moved to DELAY a policy vote to add gun carrying personnel (non police officers) to our district to allow for more public discourse. Unfortunately it failed…We gave voice to the very strong concerns from families across Cobb county, including mine. Democracy still wins. We fight on. Hold us accountable.”

Micheal Garza, Democratic candidate for Georgia House district 46 and Cobb parent, spoke at the meeting and called the move misguided.

Micheal Garza, candidate for HD-46, asked the board to consider alternative measures.

He posted, “Based on this data, we know what will work to keep our schools safe from gun violence. We need programs to help identify these kids in crisis so that we can reach them before they commit violence and get them the help they need. We need to cut off the supply of guns to these kids by providing parents and the community information on how to store firearms safely and model responsible gun ownership. And we need to pass legislation at the state level upping the age to purchase a firearm and implement red flag laws that take guns out of the hands of those who are in crisis.”

Dr. Catherine Pozniak, the Democratic candidate challenging Cobb school board chair David Chastain for Post 4, tweeted, “The board chair job is more than calling on raised hands. This is a leadership failure by my opponent, who disregards parents.”

Becky Sayler, Democratic candidate for post 2, tweeted “This policy might be intended to keep our kids safe, but like the malfunctioning Alert Point system, it seems likely to traumatize kids further. The answer to our gun problem is not adding more guns to the equation.”

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.