School boards unite in gun legislation opposition

Krystle Wagner • Nov 30, 2017 at 8:00 AM

Local school leaders are letting legislators in Lansing know their opposition to conceal carry guns in schools.

The boards of education for Grand Haven Area Public Schools and Spring Lake Public Schools on Wednesday both unanimously approved resolutions opposing Senate Bills 584-586 and 366.

Bills 584-586, which were approved by the state Senate on Nov. 8, would extend concealed carry rights to individuals who take additional training — eight hours of training and firing 94 rounds — in addition to the training required to receive a concealed carry permit, said Spring Lake Public Schools Superintendent Dennis Furton. School districts would also be prohibited from establishing policies to ban individuals with concealed carry permits and the additional training from concealed carrying while on school property.

Bill 366 would allow 18- to 20-year-olds to obtain a provisional permit to carry a concealed weapon.

The resolutions from the local school boards will be sent to Senate Majority Leader Arlan Meekhof, R-West Olive; state Rep. Jim Lilly, R-Park Township; and Gov. Rick Snyder.

Grand Haven school board President John Siemion said that although Meekhof uses the recent shooting in a Texas church as a reason to support allowing concealed weapons in schools, there is no relation because the citizens who chased the shooter weren't in the church at the time.

Siemion, who is also the secretary for the Ottawa Area Intermediate School District’s Board of Education, said he views Grand Haven and OAISD students as his adopted children and he will do what he can to keep them safe.

When the Spring Lake school board approved its resolution, Treasurer Keith Frifeldt said, “I’m sorry that’s come to this, quite frankly.”

Seth Holt, treasurer for the Grand Haven school board, said he is a gun owner and believes in the Second Amendment, which provides a constitutional right to keep and bear arms. Holt said there are places for guns, but there's no reason they should be in schools.

Currently, the Spring Lake district’s policy prohibits the possession of weapons on school property, with the exception of law enforcement personnel. In May, the district extended the prohibition to include individuals who possess concealed carry weapons permits and “may seek to open carry on school grounds,” Furton said.

The Grand Haven district also has a policy that prohibits weapons on school property and sponsored events. The policy makes exceptions for law enforcement personnel, theatrical props that don’t meet the definition of “weapon” per the policy, items approved for a class or presentation and are under adult supervision, and starter pistols in appropriate sporting events.

Furton said that he and the Spring Lake school board have two concerns regarding the legislation, which is now being considered by the state House. With the exception of law enforcement, the superintendent said they believe schools are not a safe place for firearms. Furton said they also believe that if the state Legislature approves extra training making concealed carry an option, local school boards should have the option to prohibit concealed carry in their districts.

“Allowing individuals to legally carry weapons on school sites may meet a political need at the state level, but when politics negatively impact student safety and local control, we believe that the Legislature should hit the brakes,” Furton said.

Grand Haven Superintendent Andy Ingall said he supports local school boards making policy decisions “as stated in Public Act 319 of 1990.” 

Additionally, Ingall said the Grand Haven district is “extremely well supported” by the Ottawa County Sheriff’s Office and Grand Haven Department of Public Safety.

“I believe that they are experts that we want to hold firearms in the interest of public safety around our children,” he said. “I am concerned that armed citizens, or even 18-year-old students, would hinder the ability of law enforcement to take charge of a situation as quickly as possible due to the necessity to identify who is a licensed CPL holder and who is the active shooter.”

Furton said the legislation is “moving fast because it has the right backing.”

“I invite parents and concerned community members to become familiar with these proposed laws and to consider how eight hours in a classroom and 94 rounds fired at the range warrants the legal carry of weapons on school sites,” he said. “I ask parents to consider if they would better trust their locally elected school board or the Legislature to make these decisions for their children.”

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