Despite protests, Cobb school board OKs policy to arm some employees

However, teachers will not be allowed to carry firearms in schools

Cobb County’s school board approved a policy that would allow some employees in the state’s second-largest district to carry weapons in schools — but not teachers.

It’s the first step to increasing armed security in the district, which is struggling to fill vacant positions in its police force, Superintendent Chris Ragsdale said Thursday. The board approved the policy in a 4-2 vote, with one member absent, over a group of protesters who stood and chanted, “Delay the vote!”

“I think it’s dangerous, rash and vastly, wrongly open-ended,” Cobb parent Charles Andrew Cole told the board. “‘Let’s get more guns in schools and we’ll add specifics later’ is not the way we should operate.”

Ragsdale said last month that the district would explore hiring retired law enforcement officers and veterans to act as armed guards and supplement its existing police force. After a series of mass shootings in recent months — including one that left 19 students dead at an elementary school in Uvalde, Texas — many Georgia districts renewed discussions about school safety.

“Quite honestly, if the board gave me a blank check and said go hire a school resource officer for every single school in Cobb County, I could not do that,” he said. “We could try, but we — just like every other law enforcement agency around us — (are) having a tremendous difficulty hiring law enforcement officers.”

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Board member Jaha Howard and community members who asked the board not to approve the new policy Thursday say it’s too vague. They wanted to know which employees specifically would be carrying weapons.

The policy states that the superintendent can authorize “certain employees” to carry weapons, but does not mention a specific type of employee. Ragsdale described the employees who will be allowed to carry weapons as new hires who have the same training as school resource officers. Howard said it sounded like a new level of “gun-carrying professionals.”

Cobb has 67 school resource officers for more than 100 schools and facilities. Ragsdale said the Cobb County Police Department has more than 100 openings, and the district is competing for those applicants. Cobb also plans to instate a new crisis alert system in August.

Dozens of states allow people to carry guns on campuses in some circumstances, according to the National Conference of State Legislatures. In states like Florida and Texas, which have both been the sites of mass school shootings in recent years, teachers and other employees may be trained and permitted to carry weapons at schools.

Metro Atlanta districts rely on the use of sworn law enforcement officers, despite it being legal to arm other employees. Laurens County, a rural district to the southeast of Atlanta, became the first Georgia district to arm teachers in 2018.

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Before board members voted, Ragsdale amended the policy to eliminate a line that would have allowed for Cobb teachers to be armed in some cases.

“As we have discussed on numerous occasions, again I am not in favor of arming teachers,” he said. “Teachers have one job and that is to teach.”

Cobb’s new policy states that carrying a weapon will be strictly voluntary. The employee must be licensed to carry a firearm. Employees must pass an annual criminal history background check, and cannot have a history of mental or emotional instability. They must go through training.

The policy leaves much up to the superintendent’s discretion — including who is exempt from training, and the types of weapons that would be permitted. Ragsdale said those things will be up to the district’s police chief.