Santa Fe Public Schools face red tape for armed officers

By Robert Nott | The New Mexican  –

Updated 

The leaders of Santa Fe Public Schools have a lot of paperwork to do before they can put armed resource officers on campuses, an attorney hired by the district said Monday.

Lawyer Geno Zamora said the school board has to set policies that meet recent mandates on who can carry guns on school property. The mandates are set by the New Mexico Public School Insurance Authority, which represents most of the state’s school districts in purchasing risk insurance.

 

The authority says districts must create language concerning school resource officers — police officers assigned to campuses — to ensure they are properly trained, know where their firearms are at all times and report to the proper authorities in the case of an active shooter or other incident.

“No district has adopted policies that reflect that mandate,” Zamora said, following a presentation to an assembly of about 30 people on the legal challenges of allowing anyone — police officers, security guards, educators, parents, volunteers or students — to bring a firearm onto a school campus.

 

The district hired Zamora, who previously worked for the district, as a contractor to make the presentation and clear up legal questions regarding the issue. Zamora is now acting Santa Fe city attorney.

 

It’s a complicated issue to explain, thanks to sometimes contradictory laws and vague legal guidelines. For example, while federal and New Mexico state law prohibits the carrying of firearms on school campuses — with some exceptions — those policies don’t totally align with one another. And school board policies, in turn, often don’t even address the issue, Zamora said.

 

For example, he said, there is currently no Santa Fe board policy specifically prohibiting an employee from bringing a gun on campus. And no one is thinking about the repercussions of guns being misplaced, lost, stolen or inadvertently discharged, even if they are carried by licensed professionals, he said.

 

The bureaucratic tangle of red tape, which could take some time to sort out, could further stymie the district’s efforts to have three armed resources officers in place by the start of the next school year in August.

 

District leaders first discussed that plan following the Feb. 14 shooting at a Parkland, Fla., high school that took the lives of 17 students and staff. That massacre prompted student-led protests around the country, with youth activists demanding that political leaders do something to keep them safe in school.

 

Schools Superintendent Veronica García announced last week that fulfilling the plan for armed resource officers was unlikely because Mayor Alan Webber told her that the city does not have enough police. And without the city anteing up half of the estimated $200,000 to fund three officers, the district would be hard pressed to go forward with the idea, she said.

 

But school board member Steve Carrillo, who attended Monday night’s meeting at the district’s B.F. Young Administrative Building, said he is not giving up on the plan.

“If we want it, we’ll find a way to get it,” he told the assembly, which included a handful of high school students. “The mayor wouldn’t say no if this is something our kids would like. The city could pay the whole thing if they wanted to.”

García said she has heard from a number of constituents who have expressed differing views on the issue. Some want armed guards. Some want armed teachers. Others do not want more guns on any campus, regardless of who is carrying them.

“Putting guns in schools is not a good idea,” one man told García on Monday.

 

But Santa Fe High School junior Wylee Oellien, who was sitting near the man, said having an armed officer on campus “would make me feel much safer.” He said two shooting threats at his campus last year, as well as an on-campus stabbing this month, “scares me a bit.”

 

The conflicting views speak to the confusion and concern many feel about how to best address the issue of gun violence. Some at Monday’s meeting said the real problem is a lack of gun control laws. Others said the district must do more to screen and help students who may have emotional and mental health problems.

 

Both García and Carrillo said the district is trying to do more to address those challenges. “But it’s all about money,” Carillo said.

 

The district plans to discuss its budget priorities and challenges, and continue the discussion on armed resource officers at a study session scheduled for 5 p.m. Tuesday, April 24, at the district’s Educational Services Center on Alta Vista Street.

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