EARLY —Several Early residents expressed support, while one mother wanted to see data to support the proposal, as Early school officials heard comments Monday night about the idea of arming some staff members.
    An audience of about 30 gathered at the school district administration office for what the district termed a “town hall meeting” at the beginning of the district’s regularly scheduled school board meeting. After introductory comments from Superintendent Wes Beck and school board president Shawn Russell, audience members were invited to comment.
    Beck penned a letter earlier, posted on the district’s web page, stating, “With events occurring in our world and in schools, we feel it is of utmost importance to have to ability to protect our students and staff. We are considering some sort of ‘guardian program.’ This would require us to arm certain staff members on our campuses after rigorous qualifying and training.”
    Beck told audience members school board members wouldn’t be able to respond to comments because of the requirements of the Open Meetings Act but stressed that board members wanted to hear input.
     “People think, why are you all doing this now? Has there been an issue or incident? There absolutely has not been any kind of issue or incident of any kind. We’re just trying to be proactive.
    “It’s awful that we have to have this conversation at this time about our kids and our schools.”
    A mother of two middle school students said she once feared guns, but prefers her children “to attend a place where, if something was to happen, the staff, the principal, coach, would be able to take care of the threat and then call for law enforcement.”
    Another mother, saying she wants to see data and statistics that show if a rural school district the size of Early would be safer with armed staff, said a couple of questions need to be answered. “What’s the objective … is this objective fulfillable by this action?
    “I feel like Early is a safe community. I don’t know that we need to implement arming our staff.”
    Bob Morgan, a grandfather of two, said, “On the statistics, nobody knows. Nobody knows what’s going to happen tomorrow. We just don’t know what out there and what’s going to happen. I’m in favor of it. I just don’t want Early to be a statistic.”
    After the meeting, Russell said the board is “still in the process of fact-finding” and has done a large amount of research. “We obviously are not going to take this lightly,” Russell said.
    If the board decides to authorize some staff members to be armed, they will be trained by state-licensed instructors, Russell said. “Our goal is to be able to protect our kids,” she said.
    Russell didn’t know if there will be any additional town hall-type meetings but said she anticipates Beck will be putting out more information. Russell said she knows Beck is willing to talk to people one-on-one about the proposal.
    The Bulletin asked Early Police Chief David Mercer his view on the proposal, and Mercer replied via email:
    “I have met with Mr Beck on several occasions about the guardian program they are considering and I believe they have put a lot of thought and consideration into the program. I have expressed my concerns toward the program and we have discussed those concerns and both agree that if the program is developed and goes forward, we will have to address those issues.
    “Our concerns are not with having the program implemented. If the program is done correctly I believe it will be a good level of security to keep the kids safe from any threat that could present itself until law enforcement arrives. I do believe the school is taking the right steps to make sure the program is done correctly.
    “While the Early Police Department will always provide aggressive patrols around the schools, unfortunately we cannot guarantee the safety of each student every day. Nor can this program guarantee anything, but it will add a level of security that is not there and hopefully a strong deterrence to any threat that could present itself.”