Kern High School District trustees voted 3-2 Thursday to allow teachers and certificated staffers with Concealed Carry Weapon permits to bring guns to campuses.
Trustees Jeff Flores and Bryan Batey voted no, while Trustees Mike Williams, Phillip Peters and Chad Vegas voted yes. The trio of supporters said having more guns at high schools would create safer environments for students.
“I’ve made my beliefs pretty clear. This is a step toward making our campuses safer for students and staff,” said Peters, who sat on the committee exploring the issue and has long been a proponent of the policy. “I don’t always know what the right decision is, but I do believe this is the best direction.”
The policy passed without any administrative regulations attached, despite trustees having tasked administrators with months of research on the matter. There are no guidelines on how to roll out the policy, direction on who would be able to carry a concealed weapon, or discussion of what requirements will be considered.
Those regulations will be developed later, Williams said.
“We’re not attempting to grant permission at this time. What we’re doing is setting board policy that we want administrative regulations to go into a particular direction to have a certain goal,” Williams said.
The decision heads-off a months-long debate over safety and Second Amendment rights. Williams has said it was moved up to an unusual special session meeting so Vegas, a proponent of the measure, could vote on it before he leaves office. He did not feel Trustee-elect Joey O’Connell had been as well-versed on the debate as Vegas.
The policy had a first and final read before approval. Most policy recommendations have two reads before a final vote.
“I almost hate to address it because people think it’s my policy,” said Vegas, who told The Californian the policy is Williams’ brain child and championed by Peters.
Williams denied Thursday that he scheduled the special session out of political convenience, or that he held the item from the regularly scheduled Nov. 7 meeting to avoid attracting negative press ahead of the public vote on the district’s $280 million bond measure.
“It has nothing to do with politics, and the idea that we’re railroading an idea through to me is just not genuine,” Williams said. “There’s nothing political about a school board. We’re not political.”
Jesse Aguilar, vice president of the Kern High School Teachers Association, called the timing of the meeting “outrageous.”
“Passing policy in the shadows is not good governance. This is not the way this board should be doing business. We ask you to do the right thing: postpone this vote,” Aguilar told trustees during the one minute Williams gave him and each of the other speakers to weigh in during public comment.
Meanwhile, Flores, who voted against the policy, took issue with the board taking action on “the biggest vote on student safety in the history of the district” outside of a regularly scheduled meeting.
“I’ve never even heard of a first (and final) read,” Flores said. “I’m pro-Second Amendment, but it isn’t just about our stance on the Second Amendment — it’s about our students. I think it’s a one-in-10,000 chance we have an active shooter scenario, but we’ll have to live with, the next 10,000 days, a policy with 35,000 students and 3,500 staff and there’s lots of things that can go south.”
Flores questioned how involved the public was in the process, with the district holding no public forums dedicated to the matter, nor soliciting opinions outside board meetings from law enforcement.
Williams quickly corrected him, saying Dave Edmiston, the acting KHSD Police Department chief who has since been put on administrative leave while prosecutors decide whether to charge him with eavesdropping, gave some direction to a board committee.
“Their opinion was that they would do whatever we instructed them to do,” Williams said.
While administrative regulations have not been drafted, trustees have indicated that they’ll limit the caliber of the bullets that can be carried, require 40 to 80 hours of training, and won't make carrying a gun mandatory.
The board also did not outline regulations when it approved a policy allowing non-employee CCW permit holders to carry a gun on campus in June. It has since developed an application.
So far, 13 people have applied for and received permits to carry concealed weapons on KHSD campuses.
They include a stay-at-home mom, a dispatcher for the Kern County Sheriff’s Office, a doctor, an analyst for an oil company, an insurance agent and five people who attend church services at KHSD campuses on the weekends.