School board passes gun pol­icy by one-vote mar­gin

The Advance of Bucks County - - NEWTOWN AREA - By Cary Beavers

COUN­CIL ROCK – The Coun­cil Rock School Board voted 5-4 Thurs­day night to add the Chan­cel­lor Cen­ter, where the board holds its meet­ings, un­der a pol­icy that bans weapons from school prop­er­ties pur­suant to state law.

The change ba­si­cally states that the Chan­cel­lor Cen­ter is sub­ject to the same state laws ap­pli­ca­ble to its school build­ings. It reads, “The board af­firms that the Chan­cel­lor Cen­ter, as a build­ing of the Coun­cil Rock School Dis­trict, is cov­ered by and sub­ject to state laws gen­er­ally ap­pli­ca­ble to the grounds and build­ings of pub­lic school dis­tricts.”

Vot­ing against the pol­icy were Dr. Bill Fos­ter, Richard Abram­son, Jerold Grupp and Dr. Paul Anag­nos­takos. Board mem­bers ap­prov­ing the pol­icy were Robert Donnelly, Ber­nadette Heenan, Kyle McKessy, Patty Sex­ton and Wendi Thomas.

The de­bate stemmed from an in­ci­dent in­volv­ing board mem­ber Jerold Grupp.

On a Sun­day dur­ing sum­mer break, he was tour­ing ren­o­va­tions at Hol­land El­e­men­tary School when a hand­gun he owned and was li­censed to carry was seen by two em­ploy­ees on school prop­erty and was re­ported to the ad­min­is­tra­tion as per dis­trict pol­icy. The build­ing was closed to the pub­lic and no chil­dren were present.

While the in­ci­dent brought no charges from the dis­trict at­tor­ney, it did spark a de­bate among board mem­bers re­gard­ing whether un­der school pol­icy the Chan­cel­lor Cen­ter, where board busi­ness is con­ducted, is in­cluded in the no weapons pol­icy cov­er­ing the dis­trict’s schools.

While not a school build­ing, Chan­cel­lor Cen­ter rou­tinely hosts Coun­cil Rock students of all ages who make pre­sen­ta­tions or per­form for the board. In fact, Thurs­day night’s dis­cus­sion about the gun is­sue be­gan while a group of students from Welch El­e­men­tary School were fil­ing out of the build­ing af­ter singing for the board.

Dur­ing pub­lic com­ment, a hand­ful of res­i­dents crit­i­cized the board for its han­dling of the is­sue and said they would have pre­ferred to see a pol­icy specif­i­cally aimed at the Chan­cel­lor Cen­ter, rather than just of­fi­cially adding the ad­min­is­tra­tive build­ing to a list of build­ings ad­dressed in a much broader state law.

Le Shep­pard of Wright­stown specif­i­cally asked the board to start over.

“The strong­est weapon in this room should be this mi­cro­phone,” Shep­pard said. “I ask you to vote down this and come up with some­thing stronger.”

New­town Bor­ough’s Nancy Car­roll agreed, ham­mer­ing the board for not tak­ing a stronger stance against weapons in the Chan­cel­lor Cen­ter.

“It’s a wa­tered-down, say-noth­ing pol­icy,” Car­roll said. “Noth­ing about the pol­icy is very pru­dent. It doesn’t pro­tect kids, the pub­lic or em­ploy­ees. I have very lit­tle re­spect for this pol­icy. If some­one asked if you can or can­not bring a gun to a Coun­cil Rock School Board meet­ing, no­body could an­swer it.”

Board mem­ber Sex­ton agreed that the pol­icy is not spe­cific enough.

“I’d just like to see us af­firm that we care,” Sex­ton said. “The pur­pose of this board is to say that there can be no guns in the ad­min­is­tra­tion cen­ter. Why not have lan­guage that spec­i­fies that there are no guns al­lowed in the ad­min­is­tra­tion cen­ter? This leaves too much out.”

De­spite her con­cerns, Sex­ton voted to ap­prove the pol­icy and for the record tried to clar­ify any mis­con­cep­tions a po­ten­tial visi­tor to the Chan­cel­lor Cen­ter might have.

“I don’t think the lan­guage put into this would change be­hav­ior,” Sex­ton said. “But I want the pub­lic to be clear: it is against the law to carry a gun into our build­ing. If some­one wants to chal­lenge that by bring­ing a gun and let­ting it be seen, then call the po­lice. The judge will have to make the de­ci­sion.”

Board mem­ber Heenan, who voted for the pol­icy, asked that signs be posted around the build­ing in­form­ing vis­i­tors what is not al­lowed inside the build­ing and on the Chan­cel­lor Street prop­erty.

Board mem­ber Fos­ter, who voted against the change, fa­vored a more spe­cific pol­icy.

“The pol­icy should be writ­ten to help board mem­bers un­der­stand what the state law says. This doesn’t help any board mem­bers in the fu­ture un­der­stand what the state law says,” he said.

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