School board passes gun policy by one-vote margin
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.