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APS resolves to oppose arming teachers

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Albuquerque Public Schools police Sgt. Augie Sena is one of 56 armed officers within APS. The officer patrolled West Mesa High on Tuesday afternoon. Nearly a week ago, the APS Board of Education made its stance against arming teachers very clear when it passed a resolution in solidarity with the Council of the Great City Schools, a national organization that represents urban public schools.(Jim Thompson/Albuquerque Journal)

Copyright © 2018 Albuquerque Journal

During a recent discussion about gun violence and arming teachers, Elizabeth Armijo, an Albuquerque Public Schools Board of Education member, began to tear up.

While reading a social media post on student and staff safety sent to her by a constituent, Armijo’s voice caught in her throat.

Jose Castillo, with the West Mesa High School Student Senate, passes out support ribbons for school safety. APS police Sgt. Augie Sena pins a ribbon to his uniform during Tuesday’s lunchtime. (Jim Thompson/Albuquerque Journal)

“When the person with the AR-15 comes down the hall firing dozens of rounds in seconds, is the teacher armed with a handgun supposed to open the classroom door and expose the children to rapid gunfire while she tries to shoot?” she read aloud.

The room was silent.

“Or is she supposed to hide the children in closets and cabinets before opening the door to the guy with the semiautomatic weapon?” The board made its stance against arming teachers very clear after most members voted to pass such a resolution last Wednesday in solidarity with the Council of the Great City Schools, a national organization that represents urban public schools.

“There is no reason based on any viable research to suggest that adding guns into a school setting or arming teachers would prevent these acts of violence,” the resolution stated.

The resolution comes more than a decade after a former APS school board voted to allow police to carry weapons on campus during school hours and to create the district’s stand-alone police force, replacing its security office.

Henry Duvall, communications director for Council of the Great City Schools, said since the organization issued its draft resolution to the council’s 70 big-city school districts, Sacramento, San Antonio, Texas, and Florida’s Broward County also have formally adopted the resolution and other districts have expressed plans to follow suit.

One vote against

The APS board’s resolution was passed on a 6-1 vote, with board member Peggy Muller-Aragón voting against the motion.

“The resolution as passed didn’t take care of students’ safety first. It passed off responsibility to Washington, D.C., where we know we are just going to get double-talk,” Muller-Aragón told the Journal.

APS police Sgt. Augie Sena signs a pledge to raise money for the track team at West Mesa High with students, from left, Brittany Bravo, Elie Assaad and Jayla Doyle. (Jim Thompson/Albuquerque Journal)

She also said the resolution didn’t include local input and that she wanted parents, students and taxpayers brought into the conversation.

APS spokeswoman Johanna King said there has been no discussion among APS administrators about arming teachers.

The resolution comes after President Donald Trump called schools to action, encouraging institutions to arm educators after a mass shooting last month at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School in Parkland, Florida.

“Armed Educators (and trusted people who work within a school) love our students and will protect them. Very smart people. Must be firearms adept and have annual training. Should get yearly bonus. Shootings will not happen again – a big and very inexpensive deterrent. Up to States,” the president tweeted in February.

But the district didn’t agree.

“The (APS) District is opposed to the arming of teachers to protect schools and children,” the resolution said.

“Teachers are not trained law enforcement officers and should not be asked or incentivized to keep weapons accessible in their classrooms.”

APS gun history

APS has had a long history of debate over permitting guns on campuses.

In 2007, the school board, which was comprised of different members back then, voted to allow APS police to carry weapons on campus during school hours on a close 4-3 vote after hours of heated public debate in which students were compared to prisoners.

Earlier, a 2001 board policy had allowed certified APS officers to carry guns only when school was not in session. During school hours, the officers had to go through a chain of command to retrieve their guns from police vehicles.

When asked if the current board supported armed APS officers, board President David Peercy said: “I can’t answer that question directly since this current board has not been asked to comment on that specific question. Because we have current policies, you have to assume this current board is required – as a board – to support all existing policies.”

APS has 56 sworn officers, 42 of whom are retired from other law enforcement agencies – including the Albuquerque Police Department, Bernalillo County Sheriff’s Office and New Mexico State Police – according to King, and those 56 officers carry guns. APS officers undergo annual active-shooter training and are required to pass quarterly weapons qualifications.

Officer assignments

“Every high school has a police officer assigned to it as do several of our middle schools based on such things as size of campus, number of students and calls for service,” King wrote in an email to the Journal.

Armed school resource officers from APD or BCSO also are assigned to some schools.

But ultimately all resources, including school safety initiatives, are finite and must be spread across a district of more than 1,230 square miles with more than 80,000 students and roughly 12,000 employees.

“Will the bonuses for the teachers carrying guns come from the money saved by cutting Title I funding or from the money saved by cutting funding for the arts … I am just wondering if guns are more important than reading or art,” Armijo’s reading of the social media post concluded.

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