Just hours before the Kern High School District is scheduled to vote on a contentious policy allowing teachers to apply to carry a gun, there’s been an outpouring of concern from community members, staffers and the teachers association.
Board President Mike Williams called for a special meeting to be held at 2 p.m. today with 26 hours notice. That’s legal, except community members and at least one trustee say the meeting gives the appearance of a lack of transparency and poor governance.
The meeting was in part called because Trustee Chad Vegas, a proponent of the policy, will be leaving office in two weeks and replaced by Joey O’Connell. Opponents say it’s a way for the board to secure a “yes” vote before a change in leadership.
Beyond that, many of the teachers who would be impacted by the decision would still be in class and unable to attend. If approved today, teachers and other certificated staff members with Concealed Carry Weapons permits would be allowed to bring their guns to campus.
Since the announcement Wednesday at noon, roughly 229 people have signed a petition calling for the district to become a gun-free zone, opponents organized by the Dolores Huerta Foundation are planning a protest at 1 p.m. and the Kern High Teachers Association is calling for the board to postpone the vote until a regularly scheduled board meeting.
“We ask that the KHSD Board of Trustees postpone any action on this policy recommendation until the public has had an opportunity to thoroughly view it, weigh it, and has had an opportunity to comment on it at a regular public meeting,” the Kern High School Teachers Association Executive Board said in an emailed statement to members.
By acting now, the district is giving the impression of “an organized effort to procure Trustee Vegas’ vote and may raise a Brown Act violation concerns whether warranted or not,” the board added, referencing the Ralph M. Brown Act, the state’s open meeting law. Teachers Association officials are requesting Vegas recuse himself from the meeting.
Several other teachers have emailed the district individually, calling on the board to postpone the vote.
“I respectfully submit that the action proposed by the KHSD Board concerning guns on campus which involves calling a special meeting held at a time that no KHSD employee can attend to comment will be in violation of the Brown Act,” KHSD teacher Terri Richmond wrote to the board Thursday morning.
The Kern Education Justice Collaborative is also calling for a protest, arguing that the policy being voted on Thursday does not address mental health issues that people with CCW permits may have, that the presence of guns increases the risk of homicide and that gun violence disproportionately impacts students of color.
Williams is defending his decision.
“While it is always the preference of all the trustees to handle this motion in a regular board meeting, we believe that it is time to have this board vote on the issue. Waiting until the next regular meeting, with a new trustee coming on board that hasn’t considered the issue would be unfair to him and the community,” Williams said in a prepared statement.
The board has been discussing the matter for 10 months, tasking Assistant Superintendent of Instruction Brenda Lewis with researching the policy, including sending her to Texas to observe a firearms training camp.
Despite the appearance of a rush vote, board members have held seven meetings on the topic and heard from 30 members of the public and a committee of experts on the matter, Williams said.
“Most of the board has expressed that they are ready to vote on a motion after studying the issue and receiving considerable input from the community for nearly a year,” Williams said.