SUNBURY — District policies were discussed at the Big Walnut Board of Education meeting on Nov. 10.
The bulk of the discussion was about a proposed new weapons policy #1617, with subsequent revisions to policies #3217, #4217 and #7217.
Board members Sherri Dorsch and Stephen Fujii asked Board President Doug Crowl to explain policy process.
“Once the policies are passed, they are public knowledge,” Crowl said. “However, we do not discuss safety and security measures in public session. … I know that doesn’t do anything to calm the public. I spent two hours calming the employees last night (in a meeting with dozens of staff members). We’re going to have a town hall Saturday (Nov. 12) at the high school … there’s many layers to security at Big Walnut already. Some I know, some I don’t, even being president of the board. Part of your security is the silence and unknowing by the public of all measures. There is some secrecy. What can be made public, will be made public.” (For those who were unable to attend the town hall, the district does have a survey regarding school safety on its website at www.bwls.net.)
Board member Alice Nicks added an individual wouldn’t give his or her house key to a criminal, thus the board can’t give out safety information. Board member Angela Graziosi said her interpretation of the policy is that anything you carry to protect yourself can be construed as a weapon.
“If we put this policy in place, we have the ability to put guns into the hands of our teachers,” Dorsch said. “Now maybe we don’t actually intend to do that, but this policy outlives our tenure on this board.” Dorsch and Fujii’s terms expire at the end of 2023; Crowl, Graziosi and Nicks the end of 2025.
Dorsch said the board should tell the public how much it would cost to have a school resource officer (SRO) in each building. She felt having the SROs and more resources for mental health in the schools would be the best solution to school safety. She said that if the public rejected funding those initiatives, then they should revisit the policy.
It was pointed out that of at least 29 other Ohio districts looking at similar policy language, Big Walnut was the only one having a first reading of the policy.
Crowl said the policy was badly written. He said he hoped to see if it could be rewritten, as well as seek guidance from elected officials.
“I suppose we can be like 28 other school districts that aren’t doing their job because they’re ignoring the situation, because it’s a tough conversation to have,” Crowl said. “Big Walnut’s kind of unique — we have tough conversations. That’s what makes us good.”
Dorsch said the board shouldn’t accept a badly worded policy and should wait before making any decisions.
The 3.5-hour meeting went into executive session twice, with the first lasting more than 90 minutes.
“We went into executive session, and we did so out of order to engage with members of the community and professionals who are providing sincere, honest feedback to this board in reference to items that we have on the agenda,” Fujii said. “This is a safe community; this is a safe place. We are having conversations that are difficult to have. At the end of the day, our staff does a phenomenal job in making sure that not only in educating students, but in making sure this is a safe, warm and welcoming environment.”
Five members of the public spoke, and all were opposed to changing the policies. One woman said the board should base its decisions on data and research, which she said shows more guns means more homicides and suicides. Another woman suggested the board “go back to the drawing board.” A third woman said it felt like the public wasn’t being heard, and that a majority on the board were “checking a box.”
“Arming staff is a tragedy waiting to happen,” one man said. A second man said he had 737 hours of training as a law enforcement officer, and that 24 hours of training that teachers or staff would be required to get if they were to be armed was no substitute. A supporter of the Second Amendment, he said he’s spoken to 15 other law enforcement officers regarding the policy. “Not one supports firearms in schools. It would confuse the situation and make it more dangerous.”
At the outset of the meeting, the board removed from the table policy #8600, regarding transportation, and then approved the first reading of the transportation policy. Both votes were 3-2, with Crowl, Graziosi and Nicks voting in favor.
Gary Budzak covers the eastern half of Delaware County. He may be reached at the above email address or on Twitter @GaryBudzak.