Kern High School District Trustee Joey O’Connell was sworn into office Monday, but made it clear that he has taken no position on a controversial decision made two weeks ago to allow teachers with Concealed Carry Weapon permits to bring firearms to campus.
“I’ve taken no position on that, nor have I shared a position with anyone on that,” O’Connell told The Californian after the meeting. “I recognize that it’s a heated issue, there’s a lot of debate about it, and that debate has gone on eight to 10 months now among the board members. I haven’t heard any of that debate. I’m on day one.”
Community members speculated that O’Connell opposed the policy. The Dolores Huerta Foundation even published a press release indicating that O’Connell told the California Teacher’s Association “more guns on campus will lead to more problems.”
The Californian has not been able to confirm those comments.
Advocates speaking against the policy also speculated that O’Connell could sway the divided board on the matter if it was revisited after he took office. Board members voted 3-2 to pass the policy in November.
That’s something Board President Bryan Batey said he wasn’t inclined to do until after administrative regulations have been drawn up, a process that could take six months to a year.
“One of my issues was we didn’t have those regulations,” said Batey, who voted against the policy in November. Administrators won't issue permits until the regulations are rolled out, Batey stressed.
The decision to allow teachers to carry firearms has eclipsed the conversation at KHSD, with members of the public regularly speaking out for and against the policy for months. That happened again Monday, when Gerald Cantu, a spokesman for the Dolores Huerta Foundation, said his organization would petition the decision and called on the board to rescind its policy.
Cantu also criticized the board for passing the policy in a special meeting held just two weeks before O’Connell took office, before Chad Vegas — a proponent of the policy — left office. Critics said that was a calculated decision to skirt public involvement. Trustees said they didn’t want to thrust O’Connell into making a decision without being involved in months of discussions.
“This room was full of people — standing room only. It was open and transparent,” said Trustee Mike Williams, the former board president who called the special meeting.
Meanwhile, classified staff members who were not included among those who will be able to carry firearms on campus railed against trustees for creating a rift between teachers and staff members.
“Once again, we look like third class people here, and we’re not saying we’re for it, but what’s the deal? We’re not capable? Are we too stupid? Do we not have the brains to do this?” Susan Wooden, a KHSD classified staff member asked the board.
Shane Dishman, the California School Employees Association chapter president, said he fielded more than 100 phone calls from concerned classified employees calling into question the fairness of the policy.
“Almost all classified who called me have no intentions of getting a CCW, but feel the process and qualifications are somewhat flawed,” Dishman said. “Nowhere in the CCW permit process through Kern County Sheriff’s Office does it indicate you need a teaching credential to qualify for a CCW.”
Williams, who proposed the policy initially, said excluding classified staff was a compromise made to sway dissenting trustees, but that he’d support adding those individuals to the policy moving forward.