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Coalition forms to criticize school board vote

Several speak out against allowing St. Helens staff to carry firearms on campus


by: SPOTLIGHT PHOTO: MARK MILLER - Portland consultant and St. Helens High School alumnus Sam Chapman, center, sets up a press conference feet from the St. Helens High campus Monday, Nov. 4.St. Helens School District teachers, parents and others rallied for a “press conference” Monday, Nov. 4, outside St. Helens High School to air their grievances with the school board’s recent decision to repeal a policy banning school staff, contractors and volunteers from carrying concealed weapons on school campuses.

More than two dozen people turned out for the event put on by the St. Helens Coalition for Safe Schools, which formed Friday, Nov. 1, in opposition to the board’s move.

St. Helens High science teacher John Prunty complained that the board disregarded the feelings of teachers and community members and advanced “political agendas” instead of “research-based decisions” in repealing Policy GJB, and former school board member Alan King defended the policy.

“I think the ban was well-considered,” King said, adding that he feels the Oregon State Legislature should allow school districts to prohibit concealed weapons altogether in schools. State law allows anyone with a concealed-carry permit to bring concealed guns into schools, although school districts are allowed to set policy for their own employees.

Others who spoke at Monday’s press conference included Bethany Barnett, a senior at St. Helens High, and St. Helens Middle School teacher Charles Sanderson, both of whom said they do not believe guns have a place in schools.

“Teachers did not become teachers in order to try to protect students from an armed intruder,” said Barnett, referring to arguments made by some gun advocates that arming school staff will deter or neutralize school shooters. “It is just not their job.”

“A gun isn’t going to make my classroom any safer,” Sanderson said. “A connection with my kids is going to make my classroom leaps and bounds safer.”

The press conference was coordinated by Sam Chapman, a Portland consultant who graduated from St. Helens High in 2008.

Chapman spoke briefly at the event and took a few questions from the Spotlight after it ended.

“This side of the story has not been told in the news yet, at least not in a collective manner,” Chapman said. He said he hoped to highlight opposition within the St. Helens community to the policy change by organizing a forum for people to speak against it.

School board member Ray Biggs, who spearheaded the board’s move to repeal the policy prohibiting district staff from carrying guns in schools, also attended the press conference. He hung back from the scrum of coalition supporters and journalists, but he spoke with the Spotlight about his views minutes before the event began.

“I took an oath of office when I became a board member to uphold the Constitution,” Biggs said. “The Second Amendment’s one sentence long, and it basically says that we have a right to bear arms and that right should not be infringed. There is no way that I know of that I could go by the oath of office that I took and look at the Second Amendment, which enumerates that issue, and then vote any other way but the way I voted.”

Biggs said his interpretation of the Constitution is that all restrictions on the carrying of firearms in the United States are unconstitutional, including concealed-carry permits themselves.

“The Second Amendment says we have the right to bear arms,” said Biggs. “So it doesn’t say that we have the right to bear arms everywhere but the courthouse. We have a right to bear arms everywhere but the airports. We have a right to bear arms everywhere but this or that or whatever.”

Biggs ran unsuccessfully on the Constitution Party line against Rep. Brad Witt, D-Clatskanie, for a seat in the Oregon House of Representatives last year. He said Monday he is not concerned about any prospective effort to recall him from the school board or defeat him in 2015, when his term of office will be up.

“If they want to recall me, that’s fine,” Biggs said. “I don’t even know if I’m going to run for reelection.”

Biggs concluded, “You know, if the voters elected me, they can un-elect me. And then I go on and do something else.”

Chapman said he is unaware of any organized effort to petition for recall of a St. Helens school board member.