Jan. 25—MORGANTOWN — The House Education Committee is making a third attempt to move a bill to allow select teachers to serve as armed School Protection Officers in their buildings.
HB 2549 would allow K-12 teachers, administrators and school staff to volunteer as SPOs.
The county school board would first choose to decide it wants to place SPOs in its schools. Interested personnel would have to have or obtain a concealed carry permit — which requires handgun training — and undergo additional SPO training in a course that would be developed by the Department of Homeland Security.
Potential SPOs would have to undergo initial and then annual behavioral health evaluations. Prior to appointing an SPO, the school board would have to hold a public hearing. A school could have both a School Resource Officer — a police officer — and an SPO.
The identity of the SPO would not be revealed, in order to serve as a deterrent to targeting. The public would know one or more SPOs were in the county but not who or in which buildings.
Additional annual training would be required. The school board would pay for the training. The SPO would be responsible for the cost of the firearm and ammunition.
The bill would allow an SPO to carry a stun gun or taser in lieu of a handgun. The school board may revoke a person's designation as an SPO, and the revocation is subject to appeal that would be decided by DHS.
Lead sponsor Doug Smith, R-Mercer, said 35 other states — red and blue — allow armed staff to serve as protective officers.
Ron Arthur, DHS safe schools administrator, cautioned against the bill. Having been in gunfights himself, he said, "The responsibility, it's unfathomable. ... I would not want to ask that of a teacher."
He said he would develop the most demanding training possible because teachers will put their lives on the line. "You don't have a choice to go the other way."
He also cautioned that even the most experienced and highly trained officers make mistakes — leave their guns in a bathroom or have accidental discharges. Those will happen in the schools, too.
Two proposed amendments failed. One was to require that SPOs weapons have frangible ammunition that disintegrates when it strikes a hard surface. The idea was to protect students from accidental shooting when a bullet passes through an intended target.
The amendment failed after it was discussed that frangible ammunition is designed for training — to protect officers from riccochets — and is not effective in an actual gunfight.
The other amendment, to disqualify any candidate who had a conduct complaint filed against them, failed following objections that complaints don't mean guilt and could be years or decades old.
Dale Lee, president of the West Virginia Education Association, also cautioned about the bill. "I have members who support this and members who hate it." If it passes, he wants to see every possible safety measure undertaken prevent accidental shootings.
Smith said the bill doesn't mandate anything. It's simply a tool available for those counties and staff who want it.
Delegate Heather Tully, R-Nicholas, said rural schools will have long police response times in emergencies. An armed teacher can be last line of defense. This bill allows choice.
And Delegate Todd Longanacre said most mass shooting occur where guns are banned and shooters know they can take advantage of that. This bill, where it's not known who or where the SPO is, can serve as a deterrent.
HB 2549 now heads to Judiciary, where prior versions of it died in 2022 and 2021.
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