Public schools nationwide might use federal money to arm teachers in class, but don’t look for Tennessee to participate.
“With very few exceptions, it is unlawful for anyone in Tennessee – educator or otherwise – to possess a firearm on school grounds,” said Sarah Gast, spokeswoman for the Tennessee Department of Education, in an emailed statement to The Tennessee Star.
“Two sections of Tennessee law provide a very limited exception.”
Officials in what Gast described as distressed rural counties may authorize some school employees to carry concealed weapons, if that district meets certain eligibility requirements.
Only two of Tennessee’s 147 school districts meet that criteria — Wayne County Schools and Pickett County Schools, Gast said.
“As of last year, neither had chosen to allow employees to carry concealed weapons,” Gast said.
“However, they would not be required to notify us if they changed their policy.”
Gast did not say how or why those two districts meet the criteria.
As part of the second statute, educators would have to meet substantial requirements to carry a firearm and only if district officials allow it, Gast said.
“It essentially states that if an educator is also in law enforcement or has prior service as a law enforcement officer with current Peace Officer Standards and Training and School Resource Officer training, and assuming all other requirements of the statute are met, then he or she could possibly lawfully carry a firearm at school if their district superintendent permitted it,” Gast said.
As Education Week reported last week, U.S. Secretary of Education Betsy DeVos told congressional Democrats she has no intention of using federal funds under the Every Student Succeeds Act to purchase firearms for teachers.
President Barack Obama signed the act into law in 2015. The law mandates, among other things, high academic standards to prepare students for college. The act also invests more taxpayer money in pre-schools.
Sen. Lamar Alexander (R-TN) was one of the law’s architects. “Alexander doesn’t think arming teachers is a great idea,” Education Week said.
“But he does think that ESSA, and particularly the portion pertaining to Title IV, is written flexibly enough that districts would have the option of spending their funds this way, if that’s what they decide is best.”
On Tuesday, Education Week reported DeVos now believes school districts have flexibility to arm teachers with federal money if they see fit.
“Currently, 19 states allow anyone with permission from school authorities to carry a weapon on K-12 school grounds, according to the National Conference of State Legislatures,” Education Week reported.
Those states are Alaska, Arizona, Connecticut, Georgia, Iowa, Kansas, Massachusetts, Michigan, Montana, New Jersey, New York, Ohio, Oklahoma, Oregon, Texas, Utah, and Vermont.
President Donald Trump has endorsed arming teachers because he thinks they could help prevent school shootings.
When asked, Gast would not say if Tennessee officials would allow their teachers to participate in any possible federal plan to arm themselves.
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