Loudoun Board Debates State Law on Guns in School System Buildings

Whether guns should be allowed in Loudoun County school system’s administrative offices and other non-school buildings was debated at Tuesday’s School Board meeting.

The discussion was prompted by an agenda item on the board’s 2019 Legislative Program, which will serve as a list of requests for changes in state law to the senators and delegates who represent Loudoun County in the Virginia General Assembly.

School Board Vice Chairwoman Brenda Sheridan (Sterling), who chairs the Legislative and Policy Committee, said it was the first Legislative Program that three-member committee has unanimously approved since she’s served on the board. But the proposed program hit some opposition from the full board.

The item that saw the most push back was a statement in support of legislation that would designate all school board-owned and leased property as gun-free. Right now, state law only prohibits guns on school campuses, not on properties such as the school administration building or the school system’s transportation facility.

“I received so much feedback from people who were not aware that buildings like this (the administration building) are not gun-free even though they are school system-owned buildings,” Sheridan said, noting that students are often in some of these buildings.

School division counsel Stephen DeVita added that members of the public are allowed to open carry weapons—or concealed carry if they have a permit—into several of the division’s non-school buildings.

Board members Debbie Rose (Algonkian), Jill Turgeon (Blue Ridge) and Eric DeKenipp (Catoctin) each said that prohibiting guns at the school administration building, where School Board meetings are held, would make them feel less safe, arguing that it would prevent law-abiding citizens from carrying weapons to protect themselves or others.

Turgeon agreed with Sheridan that guns should be prohibited on school campuses, but said that guns should not be prohibited at all school system-owned buildings for the sole reason that students may be present. “There are children everywhere,” she said, and stressed that, as elected officials, board members are potential targets. “We are at risk. There are people who want to do us harm.”

An armed sheriff’s deputy is at every regular School Board meeting and Board of Supervisor meeting, but several board members said that’s not enough staff to walk nine board members to their cars late at night after the meetings end.

Turgeon said that a gun shop owner told her that several school system employees had recently purchased guns when they felt threatened by a member of the community. “We would now just be sitting ducks,” she said. “There’s a reason why this building and the Board of Supervisors building has had improved security measures.”

Local Control of Dual-Enrollment Tuition, Calendars

The proposed Legislative Program also would oppose any action that would require a statewide dual enrollment tuition rate. Right now, Loudoun County students enroll in Northern Virginia Community College’s and Richard Bland College’s dual enrollment courses free of charge, in part because the county school system pays the teachers’ salary and provides classroom space. “This really just says they need to factor in the cost that school divisions cover when they’re looking at doing this. And I would say that one size does not fit all across the state,” Eric Hornberger (Ashburn) said.

The proposed program also would request rolling back the so-called King’s Dominion Law to give local school boards control over their academic calendars. “That’s been a request since I’ve been on the board for seven years, but there’s actually been some positive feedback on that one this year, so we’ll see,” Sheridan said.

It also would ask that local school boards be allowed to retain any unspent money; right now they must return unspent funds back to the county. The Loudoun School Board puts in an annual request to the Board of Supervisors to keep money it has not yet spent, and the county board generally agrees. “Staff is recommending that we omit this,” Sheridan said, “but we (committee members) believe it’s worth the fight.”

The School Board is slated to adopt its final Legislative Program at its Nov. 13 meeting. Board members will present it to the county’s state delegation at the annual Legislative Breakfast in December.

View the full proposed Legislative Program here.

dnadler@loudounnow.com
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