School board members in Lee County, Virginia, are voicing criticism of state Attorney General Mike Herring, who on Tuesday issued an opinion that arming school teachers conflicts with state law.
The Lee County school board voted to arm certain teachers because it said it did not have the money to fund a security officer in every school, but wanted to protect students and staff.
“When a local school board agrees unanimously, without political preference, to be proactive in adding security to our facilities, it should matter to our state elected officials,” school board chairman Mike Kidwell told Watchdog.org Wednesday.
About a month ago, the Lee County school board unanimously approved a motion to arm certain teachers at its schools.
For teachers to be armed, they would have to go through training by the sheriff’s office, undergo a psychological evaluation and receive the legal title of “special conservators of the peace,” which is a circuit court-appointed position that allows a person to take on the duties of an officer in a certain jurisdiction.
But the Attorney General’s Office’s opinion said that Virginia law permits only certain individuals to carry guns in a school building — and that doesn’t include teachers.
The General Assembly, according to a news release about the opinion, voted multiple times against extending this authority to teachers or school administrators. Instead, it said, the General Assembly has permitted several ways for which schools could hire armed security and apply for grants to help fund their positions.
Although the law permits “conservators of the peace” to possess a weapon in the performance of his duties if it is on school property, the attorney general said in his opinion that “special conservators of the peace” are a separate, distinct legal term and this permission does not also extend to them.
“Our kids deserve a safe, secure learning environment when they come to school, and adding guns and armed, unqualified personnel to our classrooms is incompatible with that goal,” Herring said.
The Lee County school board has stated the state grant money would not be enough, that the teachers would first have to get qualified and that their lawyers have told them this move is legal.
Members plan to take further action.
“We anticipated this response from the [attorney general],” school board member and practicing lawyer Rob Hines told Watchdog.org. “The board will now review and evaluate the decision, consult with counsel and determine future action. The board simply seeks to protect staff and students and will not give up on doing so.”
Kidwell said that the teachers acting as special conservators of the peace would be qualified for the job, as they would be required to go through proper training through the sheriff’s office.
“We have had several different attorneys tell us this path is doable,” he said.
Kidwell said politics was not a factor in the school board’s decision and that he asked the same from the state of Virginia.
Tyler Arnold reports on Virginia, Ohio and Michigan for Watchdog.org.
A version of this article previously appeared on Watchdog.org under the headline “Lee County school board members critical of AG’s rejection of armed teachers.”
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