In an unusual move, Kern High School District officials are preparing to force a vote over whether to allow teachers to arm themselves, calling a special session Thursday, prior to the departure of trustee Chad Vegas, a strong proponent of the policy, who leaves office next month.
District officials held a special meeting to discuss the policy last month, sorting out insurance liabilities, protocol for carrying concealed firearms, and details of how the district would train employees for that responsibility. One official said during the meeting that it would take a year to sort through the specifics.
Less than a month later, trustees are poised to make a decision. Trustees will vote on a “first and final” reading of the policy, an unusual move since most policies undergo two readings before a final vote.
The meeting is set for 2p.m. at the KHSD offices at 5801 Sundale Ave.
Vegas has been critical of district administrators, who he has said have been pushing back a vote since August. He chose not to run for reelection this year and attended his final regular board meeting this month. However, he retains his trustee position until December, when newly elected successor Joey O’Connell is sworn into office.
The special session was called for Wednesday morning with 24 hours advance notice, as required by law, district officials said.
“I've been working on an issue for months at Kern High (School District). The admin asked to push it to August, then September, and now to post-Oct. Knowing that I won't be running again, I'm starting to get the impression they want to push it back until I am off the board,” Vegas wrote on his Facebook page after an Aug. 1 board meeting.
Vegas, a pastor at Sovereign Grace Church, which holds worship services at Frontier High School on weekends, said he voted in favor of allowing non-employee CCW permit holders to carry because he didn’t want to violate the rights of church-goers using district property during non-school hours.
Despite favoring the policy, Vegas told The Californian Wednesday that carrying out a special session before his departure wasn't his idea.
"I was told Mike Williams and Trustee [Phillip] Peters said we have spent months on this issue and they didn't think it was a good idea for a brand new board member to be pressed to vote at their first meeting on an issue they weren't present for," Vegas wrote.
Williams, the board president, has not returned requests for comment.
And all that complaining about a lack of expediency? Vegas said he's leveled that criticism against administrators multiple times over his years on the board.
Arming teachers has gained wide support on the board. Both Vegas and Peters identified themselves as Concealed Carry Weapon Permit holders and are in favor of the idea, along with Williams, who has called it an “extra layer of protection” in the event of an emergency.
Trustee Jeff Flores told The Californian this year that he wouldn’t support arming teachers.
On Wednesday, Flores expressed further concern. “The timing of this is very suspect. I’m completely caught off guard,” he said, adding that he was aware they’d be discussing CCW permits, but was under the impression that it would be a study session that didn’t include a vote.
“A policy this wide-reaching, affecting so many people, I think it should be held at a regular board meeting when the public has an opportunity to weigh in and be heard on both sides of the issue. To have it on a Thursday afternoon so suddenly kind of in the lame duck session before new members are on the board I think is outrageous.”
Meanwhile, Trustee Bryan Batey has been cautious about the decision to arm district employees, questioning during an Oct. 14 special board meeting how a policy would be rolled out, what liabilities the district faces, what kind of ammunition staff would carry and whether employees are bound to protect kids if they are armed, along with a host of other concerns.
District trustees, who have been criticized for a pending decision that some say is akin to deputizing teachers, have repeatedly rebuked that claim. But armed teachers would only defend themselves and students in their classroom in the case of a catastrophe, trustees said last month.
Those teachers would receive between 40 and 80 hours of specialized firearm training -- something KHSD Assistant Superintendent of Instruction Brenda Lewis researched this year during a business trip to Texas, which embraces guns in classrooms through a school marshal program sanctioned by the Texas Commission on Law Enforcement.
But the issues raises some questions. Batey, for example, asked whether staff members are allowed to take steps to protect kids outside of their classrooms if an active shooter begins terrorizing a campus. Does allowing staff to carry weapons create a job duty?
“We could come up with endless scenarios,” Williams said last month. “The training has to give them the weight to make a decision. The worst scenario is the guy outside has a gun, and the teacher inside doesn’t.”
Despite all the discussion, board members are voting on a policy Thursday that doesn’t appear to include any of the provisions related to the specifics that board members discussed Oct. 14.
Instead, it authorizes the superintendent to offer blanket approval to any certificated employee who holds a valid CCW permit.
It comes with the caveat that “permission shall be granted subject to the terms, conditions, restrictions, and requirements as outlined in the Administrative Regulation 3515.7 that shall accompany this board policy." However no such terms and restrictions pertaining to employees are included in the policy, according to a draft copy of the document.
Despite the time, effort and money the district has sunk researching the matter, trustees said in October that it’s not likely many employees will even sign up to wear a gun.
“I’d be shocked if there were one at each campus,” Vegas said last month. “I think people need to chill out on a little bit. It’s not this avalanche of people who are applying for these kind of things.”
As it stands, just 13 of Kern County’s 864,000 residents have applied to carry their firearms onto school campuses, despite the district’s recent decision to allow non-employee CCW holders to do so.