Both sides of a debate over whether licensed pistol-owners should be allowed to openly carry them into schools were presented Wednesday night at the Ann Arbor Board of Education meeting held at Huron High School to accommodate the crowd.
The controversy began March 5 when Joshua Wade openly carried a gun to a choir concert at Pioneer High School, and choir director Steen Lorenz alerted police.
University of Michigan-Flint music professor Brian DiBlassio attended the concert and alerted the audience about the situation with Wade.
Officers determined that Wade was not breaking the law, but has a concealed pistol license, a license which allows people to open carry in a school, but not carry a concealed weapon at a school.
People with concealed pistol licenses may carry their firearms in “pistol-free zones,” as long as they are not concealed. Otherwise, schools are gun-free zones.
Board President Deb Mexicotte drew applause with one simple opening sentence: “We don’t want guns in our schools and the safety of our students and school community is paramount.”
She said the matter will be discussed March 16 at the Governance Committee meeting.
“But to be clear, state law overrides board policy, and we currently are and will be following the law,” she said. “What we will be discussing with administrators is what procedures we will have in place within the context to sure a safe and orderly school environment for our students.”
Building administrators have been told that if they have a person on school grounds, they should call the police, who will determine whether that person has a license that allows both the carrying of the gun, and that it is secured.
She said the board may also decide to control areas of the building in which visitors are allowed and under what circumstances, and could delay any scheduled events or lockdown facilities pending resolution of licensure by law enforcement, or cancel the events and evacuate when a firearm is on the grounds. The board, she said, could also ask the courts to issue a declaratory judgment to allow the district to uphold a local “no gun zone” 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,” she said. “It only outlines what we will do in response.”
She said trustees are not employees of the district or volunteers, but are elected officials who constantly engage in political conversations.
“We are bound to follow the law, but we are not required to agree with it,” she said. “As a matter of fact, if there is law that is detrimental to what we believe is in the best interest of our students or our citizens, it is our responsibility to work to get that law changed.”
She said the board would consider a resolution asking the state to go back to previous legal position of having certain areas of the community off limits to guns of any licensure.
AAPS Superintendent Jeanice Swift made it clear that the presence of guns in schools is counterproductive to maintaining a rich, productive, and healthy learning environment for students.
“While we recognize the law and the complexities this situation presents, our primary commitment and goal is absolute: we will do everything in our power to always maintain a safe, nurturing, and comfortable learning environment for our children,” she said. “The safety and well being of our children will remain the focus and priority of our policies, regulations, and daily practice in the Ann Arbor Public Schools.”.
Swift said the district has worked hard to improve school safety practices and ensure safe learning environments, and has partnered with local authorities to develop protocols that are responsive to what has been learned in recent attacks across the country. The ALICE training protocol, she said, is an essential part of our emergency plan.
“Though the possibility is painful to consider, our educators and school leaders have stepped up to the challenge of preparing to protect children in the case of violence erupting at school,” she said. “Additionally, we have recently begun a phased approach to remodel our schools for secured front entrances.
Forty-two people were each given 62 seconds to speak.
Speakers included parents and grandparents strongly opposed to guns in the schools, mostly on safety concerns. Many expressed gratitude for Mexicotte’s strong words, and the fact that the board will address the issue.
Eric Straka said he was at the concert, and said if he had known Wade had a gun, he would have taken his daughter off stage and gone home.
“I implore you to follow through with your intentions,” he told the board, before promising to raise a ruckus if he’s ever at a school event where someone is carrying a gun.
Jeff Hayner said he is a gun-owner who would never consider bringing a gun into a school.
On the other side were several men, mostly members of Michigan Open Carry, Inc., and some with holstered pistols on their hips.
They said that as law-abiding gun-owners, they will support Wade, and are watching the board to see what it decides to do.
Several made the distinction between law-abiding, trained gun owners eager to protect themselves and their families, and criminals, who will do what they’ll do regardless of policy.
They said they, too, are concerned about student safety, and they would be the first to act to save children in case of a crisis.
Joshua Wade told the crowd that the safety of children is the reason students
“As a law-abiding citizen, I am very concerned that this board may attempt to circumvent state law in the area of firearms regulation,” he said.
“Allowing guns in the schools ultimately just makes sense,” he said, to laughter in the crowd.
Wade said criminals will not see schools as easy targets if they know there are good people carrying guns there.
Swift said that during the concert, the actions of individuals took attention away from an outstanding student performance.
“The focus should always remain on the positive efforts of our children, not the adults in attendance,” she said.
“Over the coming weeks as we attend to this work, when we experience differences of opinion, let’s commit to work toward common understandings in an open and respectful fashion, acknowledging that this approach can be mutually beneficial and it also models what we expect from our students within the school system
Charles Blough, a third grader at Wines Elementary, carried a sign that said, “No guns at school.”
“I think it’s wrong to have guns at school,” said Charles, “because it’s violent and they can hurt people.”