Randy Yohe Published

Tempers Flare In House Debate Over Arming Teachers

A group of young children, many with a hand raised, sit on the floor in front of a smiling, blonde woman wearing a light green sweater and holding a picture book in front of the group. The scene is set in front of shelves of books in the background.
Teachers could carry concealed firearms on their person if HB 4299 becomes law.

A contentious debate over the much-talked-about bill on third reading to arm teachers as concealed carry protection officers took place in the House of Delegates on Wednesday.

House Bill 4299 permits staff in K-12 schools to be authorized to carry concealed firearms, along with tasers and stun guns, and become a designated school protection officer, or SPO. The bill states that any SPO would be on a voluntary basis.

The bill gives county school districts the option to establish, or not establish, SPOs at their schools. A bill amendment raised would mandate that a school district must assign a teacher who decided on their own to take the full training, in concealed carry and crisis intervention, to be an armed SPO.

Del. Evan Hansen, D-Monongalia, opposed the amendment. He said it rejects the original choice for school districts to opt in or out of having School Resource Officers.

“This amendment would force the school system to allow guns into schools with school protection officers,” Hansen said. “Even if they have made a policy decision to go another route with the School Resource Officers, or the school security officers. It overrides that local control.” 

Del. Todd Kirby, R-Raleigh, was among several who supported a teacher’s right to opt in as an SPO themselves.

“Any teacher, any school personnel is going to pick up the mantle and take on this responsibility, which is voluntary in nature,” Kirby said. “So, it is permissive. That allows individual teachers to make up their own mind as to whether or not they think this is good for them or their classroom. But if we allow it to be quote unquote, permissive with the school boards, then you might as well not even pass this bill.” 

The amendment passed 79-21.  

In debating the bill itself, Del. Kayla Young, D-Kanawha, opposed the proposal, worrying about safety and implementation.  

“I’m worried that there was such little training, that these folks are not going to be accurately prepared to do this,” Young said. “I think that in this legislature, we’ve already passed really good stuff to keep kids safe in schools this year, the school guardian bill to allow those law enforcement officers who have like 25 weeks of training to come back into the schools and protect our kids.”

Del. Chris Phillips, R-Barbour, supported the bill, speaking as a parent who got a school lockdown call.

“We had a student hold an entire classroom hostage in school,” he said. “I had my son and my niece and at that moment, all I cared about was it. All I hoped for was that there was someone there to protect my son. Unfortunately, there wasn’t. The teacher did everything she could, got the kids against the wall, said if they come in, we’ll try to take them down.”

Del. Shawn Fluharty, D-Ohio, opposed the bill to arm teachers, saying there is no public consensus for the measure.

“Not a single expert came in and said, ‘We need this legislation.’ Not a single principal came in and said, ‘I want this for my schools.’ Nobody from the school district came in and said, ‘We need this legislation.’ We sat through the committee process, none of that came up. No parental notification, no student notification,” Fluharty said.

Bill co-sponsor Kirby said the proposal safeguards school classrooms and acts as a proactive school shooter deterrent.

This just provides an additional layer that would make anyone that wants to come into our schools and harm our beautiful children, make them think twice about doing that,” Kirby said. “Because the classroom they go into, there could be an armed teacher, or an armed personnel member that would confront them and stop the reign of terror.”

After lengthy back and forth debate continued along party lines, HB 4299 passed 89-11 and now goes to the Senate.