President’s Statement – Deb Mexicotte
Regular Meeting of the AAPS Board of Education
Huron High School Auditorium 3/11/15
I am going to start my remarks with the simple sentence – “We don’t want guns in our schools”. As representatives of the Ann Arbor Public School community we are comfortable making this statement. It is the truth and reflects everything we know about our community values. And we will do everything within our power and within the law to cleave as closely as possible to this statement. As chair of the Governance Committee, along with Trustees Lightfoot and Manley, and with our Superintendent, Dr. Swift, we had planned to take this matter up in April, but due to recent events, have moved that policy review up to beginning Monday, March 16. But, to be clear, State law overrides Board policy, and we currently are and will be following the law. What we will be discussing with administration is what procedures we will have in place within that context to ensure a safe and orderly school environment for our students.
Currently we are telling our building administrators that if they have any person on the school grounds with a gun, they are to call the police. This is to have law enforcement professionals make the judgment as to whether there is a valid license in place that allows both the carrying of the gun and that it is secured and displayed in whatever fashion is appropriate. This is the kind of procedure we will be considering codifying for when a gun is on school grounds, and already exists in our training and procedures under the auspices of whenever an administrator feels, in their professional judgment, that there is a potential safety issue requiring the presence of law enforcement, then law enforcement is summoned.
There are a number of other procedures we may consider when a person carrying a gun is on school property, and we have good examples from other districts to help us consider what is best for our community. We may control areas of the building in which visitors are allowed and under what circumstances, we could delay any scheduled events or lockdown our facilities pending resolution of licensure by law enforcement, or we could cancel events and evacuate when a firearm is present on the grounds. We could ask the courts to issue a declaratory judgment allowing us to uphold a local “no gun zone” at our schools on the basis of the best interest of students. None of these actions or procedures would need to infringe on the legal standing of the licensed gun owner to carry their weapon onto our property or into our schools – it only outlines what we will do in response. This is the work of the Board over the next few weeks.
There are those that somehow think that this discussion is outside of our purview as a Board, or that we are somehow passive bystanders as the debate around school safety and the law ensues. That the law is the law and we are simply the willing sheep that follow and enforce it. That is not the case. We are not employees of the district, unable to advocate in our official school roles and w are not volunteers. We are elected officials, representatives of our district constituency and above all, politicians. We pass the budget and hire and evaluate the superintendent and maintain buildings and approve contracts…and engage in the political conversations that must occur about law – both good law and bad law. We are bound to follow the law, but we are not required to agree with it. As a matter of fact, if there is law that is detrimental to what we believe s in the best interests of our students or our citizens, it is our responsibility to work to get that law changed. We pass resolutions, lobby Lansing and chide the Governor on a regular basis when we think something is in need of change. The policy on CPL owners in gun free zones is no different than railing against the funding model of Proposal A, or the interpretation of the State Constitution allowing alternate uses of the School Aid Fund. This feels different to us because of the emotional wallop the gun right issue packs, and the take-no-prisoners tone of our current political discourse. This makes us all just a little bit on edge, myself included, because it is a safety issue to many of us that could take our children from us in the blink of an eye (and has over and over in Aurora and Sandy Hook and elsewhere) and a rights issue for those who would never see themselves as anything but a protector of the community and a law-abiding citizen. Unfortunately, we are unable in the moment of having an individual step onto our property with a weapon to be able to know which scenario is before us. Surely we can all agree that the difference between a law-abiding citizen and an active shooter is the few seconds it takes to remove a gun from its holster. Intention is not transparent – but our procedures and expectations can be.
Safety matters and our job is to create the safest environment possible for the students in our care, and work to put procedures in place, or challenge the law as we see fit to do so. Following the law while you challenge the law is the American way – and it is our way in Ann Arbor.
So, this evening we will consider a resolution crafted by Trustee Thomas asking the State to go back to the previous legal position of having certain areas of our community off limits to guns of any licensure – as a safety issue, as a public rights issue, as a practical issue. It is a request, and is timely to several measures currently being proposed in the State Legislature. It is a request we suggest can be made by any member of our community who feels it is a better law than our current one, just as it was a request by those in the community who thought the previous law was a bad one and were able to get the law changed.
We are committed to the issue of safety in our schools, and this issue cannot be shied from any more than policies and procedures regulating peanut allergies or ADA accommodations or electrical maintenance. Inattention or indifference in any of these areas can cause injury or death – guns on our property can do this as well. It would be unconscionable to not address this issue by whatever means are at our disposal as representatives and citizens of Ann Arbor, the State of Michigan and of the United States of America. I would contend it is also our responsibility to do so.