A controversial decision to arm teachers in all 11 Lee County schools is in the spotlight again, this time getting the attention of the state’s Attorney General.
This comes as the county plans to arm a select number of teachers as soon as this year, something they say will keep students safe from potential threats on campus.
Virginia’s Attorney General Mark Herring issued a formal opinion August 28 stating that he believes this act to be unlawful.
“All of our kids deserve a safe, secure learning environment when they go to school every day. Arming unqualified personnel is incompatible with that,” says Herring.
This comes after Virginia’s Governor Ralph Northam also denounced the plan to arm teachers last month.
The Lee County School Board voted unanimously to arm their teachers on July 11, something they see as their best option to protect students.
“Our number one priority in Lee County is the safety of our students,” says Lee County Schools Superintendent Brian Austin.
The move continues to prompt strong opposition from the state’s capitol. Herring says state law is clear- schools can hire armed officers for protection.
“What the law doesn’t allow for is for schools to arm unqualified personnel- and for good reason,” says Herring.
“We have individuals who are more than competent and more than interested in providing safety for our students,” countered Austin.
The school board says their attorneys have advised them up to this point that they are not breaking any state laws.
“We still have the plan in place. School board policy was adopted and we began an implementation plan and cooperated extensively with the Sheriff’s Office in both training and opportunities for staff,” says Austin.
The Lee County, Virginia Sheriff is completely on board with the move to arm teachers.
“We are all about safe schools. Just because we proposed this program does not mean we are not about the safety of our children. We could have done nothing and sat here and not tried to do anything. Our children’s safety is utmost in our minds,” says Sheriff Gary Parsons.
Teachers have been selected and trained to act as the “School Security Agents” and the guns have been purchased. The county will move forward with the plan until legal precedent tells them otherwise.
“We don’t want to do anything illegal, certainly not. If it’s proven to us in court that this is not legal, then we will stand by that opinion,” says Sheriff Parsons.
Austin says the school board will continue to consult with their legal team.
“At this point from the Attorney General’s opinion, we are going to check with our attorneys to see what our next steps are in this program,” says Austin.