2018-01-26 / Front Page

Board takes stance against LD 1761

School officials weigh in on a bill that would allow parents to possess a firearm on school property
By Michael Kelley Staff Writer

Guns are not allowed on school grounds and members of the Scarborough Board of Education desire to keep it that way, but a piece of proposed legislation may change that.

Representative John Martin, of Eagle Lake has proposed LD 1761: An Act Regarding the Prohibition on the Possession of a Firearm on School Property, which would allow parents to, according to the bill summary “possess a firearm in a motor vehicle as long as the person is dropping off or picking up a student and remains in the vehicle.”

Furthermore, the firearm must not be loaded and be in a locked container or locked firearms rack.

The proposal was referred to the Committee on Education and Cultural Affairs by the House of Representatives on Jan. 3 and by the Senate on Jan. 9. A public hearing was scheduled for Wednesday, Jan. 24, an event the board decided to provide testimony for.

After some discussion about this proposed bill and other upcoming bills for debate this legislative session, board of education members decided to urge legislators to not pass the bill for a number of reasons.

Board members felt allowing firearms on campus, albeit locked in a car, would jeopardize student safety and be difficult for school officials to monitor and law enforcement to enforce.

The current state law, which states “a person may not possess a firearm” on public or private school property or discharge a firearm within 500 feet of such property, is easier for parents to understand. The state law does not “apply to law enforcement officials” or, through a written policy adopted by a school board, a person using the firearms in a “supervised educational program” or “who possesses an unloaded firearm that is stored inside a locked vehicle in a closed container, a zipped case or locked firearms rack while the person is attending a hunter’s breakfast or similar event” held during an open firearms season, takes place outside regular business hours or otherwise authorized by the school board.

Logistically, board members concurred, Martin’s proposal would not work in Scarborough where in most cases, parents have to escort their children in and out of the school when dropping them off or picking them up, especially at the primary schools and middle school.

Board member Hillory Durgin said “there is no way to monitor this without changing the way we do things.”

Jackie Perry, who represents Scarborough on the Maine School Boards Association Legislative Committee, said the voice of board members can be a powerful testimony at public hearings.

“It’s much more powerful for school board members to speak than superintendents. Superintendents represent schools, but we are the elected officials and legislators are more moved by speaking with elected officials as opposed to school employees,” Perry said.

Vice chairman Jodi Shea said the bill, if it were made into law, would be “a nightmare to manage.”

“Just say no guns. Can’t that be enough,” she said.

The board’s stance was provided to Scarborough state senator Amy Volk, as well as state senator Rebecca Millett (Cape Elizabeth, South Portland and part of Scarborough), who chairs the Committee on Education and Cultural Affairs and Maine School Management Association Executive Director Steve Bailey.

The Scarborough Board of Education is not the only group that officially opposes LD 1761. Perry said the Maine School Board Association’s Legislative Committee is opposed to the idea.

Superintendent Julie Kukenberger said a similar bill was proposed last year, but was ultimately defeated. She said she does not support this proposal because schools are a sacred place where students and staff safety is paramount.

“Our job is to keep schools as safe as we can and we know gun tragedies at schools are not unimaginable,” Kukenberger said.

The Maine Gun Safety Coalition is also against the proposed bill.

“How many more school shootings must we endure before we realize that guns and schools just don’t mix?” Nick Wilson, Maine Gun Safety Coalition Executive Director, said in a release. “Rather than discuss ways to make our schools safer, our elected leaders in Augusta will discuss a bipartisan bill to force all K-12 public schools to allow guns in parking lots. Every day, we hear from parents and teachers who are concerned that more guns in schools, even their parking lots, will lead to more unintentional shootings and verbal arguments becoming fatal. It will also put law enforcement at risk because if their worst nightmare happens and there is an active shooter at a school, they will not be able to tell who is the good guy with the gun versus the bad guy with the gun.”

Scarborough school board member Cari Lyford, who has family in other parts of the state, said although she “is not a fan of guns on school property,” she can understand how the situation may be different in other areas of the state.

Lyford said she was worried that if this were to pass, it would create a slippery slope to additional relaxing of gun laws, a concern shared by fellow board members Mary Starr and Leanne Kazilionis.

“Who knows what would come next,” Kazilionis said.

Wednesday was also the public hearing for LD 1689: An Act To Repeal Certain Provisions Regarding the System Administration Allocation Affecting Maine School Districts in the 2018-2019 Biennial Budget.

Beginning in the 2018-2019 school year, school districts are encouraged to form regional service centers with other nearby school districts to find efficiencies. The proposal originally stated for the 2018-2019 school year, the state would provide schools with $92 per pupil for system administration, plus an additional $46 per pupil if the school were part of a regional service center. In 2019-202, school districts would get $47 per pupil, plus an additional $94 if part of a regional service center.

The bill, according to its summary, “retains the portion of the law that establishes the system administration allocation at $135 per pupil for fiscal year 2017-18 and repeals provisions that increase for future fiscal years the per-pupil amount and restrict allocation of portions of the funds to school administrative units that have established regionalized administrative services.”

In October 2017, Scarborough filed a preliminary application for a regional services center agreement with Cape Elizabeth and had joined an application for a regional service center with Sebago Alliance 2.0. Those applications will be consolidated into one application for the second part of the application process, which is due in April.

Kukenberger said it “seems a little unfair the rules are changing in the middle of the game.”

Gun possession on school campuses and regional service centers were not the only pieces of upcoming legislation that board members discussed last week. Kukenberger provided board members with a list of proposals to keep their eyes on, including LD 1666 “An Act To Ensure the Successful Implementation of Proficiency-based Diplomas by Extending the Timeline for Phasing in Their Implementation,” which would make graduates of the Class of 2022, current eighth-grader, the first class that would graduate under the new diploma system.

“As superintendents, we feel we are doing the right work and we want to stay the course, so there is some mixed feelings about the delayed implementation,” Kukenberger said.

The implementation, if approved, would mean the Class of 2022 would have to show proficiency, through a variety of pathways, in English, mathematics, science/technology and social studies. Students who are set to graduate between 2023 and 2026 would have to meet proficiency in those areas and one additional content area a year until the Class of 2026, which will have to be proficient in the four core content areas plus career and education development, health/physical education, visual/performing arts and world languages. Students are also expected to meet guiding principles of being an engaged citizen, effective problem solver and communicator and life-long learner and habits of work and learning, which measure their participation and work ethic.

Whether the proficiency-based diploma requirement gets delayed or not, Kukenberger said it won’t change the work Scarborough staff is doing to prepare for the mandate.

“I am not for or against it because I know our work will remain the same, but it sure would be good to have clear rules from the Department of Education so we can supply some clarity,” Kukenberger said.

Perry said there are several issues that are causing the proposed delay: how the proficiency requirement relates to special education students on individualized education plans (IEP), how it relates to students in career and technical education programs and the difficulty some more rural districts are having training staff and educating parents and students about the change.

Perry, a retired physical education teacher in Portland, said she had students who could bounce the basketball, participated in class to the best of their abilities and behaved, but could not put the ball in the basketball hoop. Those children, she said, passed physical education class, but would be hard-pressed to demonstrate they were proficient in physical education.

“There were some children that would never be able to meet even the most minimal standards for any physical activity, so you can’t say they were proficient in that activity,” she said.

“That’s what an IEP is,” Durgin said in response. “You are individualizing the curriculum to their ability. If they are showing proficiency based on their IEP, that’s their bar of proficiency, but that may be (the bar) for the average student.”

Kukenberger said if a student meets the goals of their IEP and are engaging in their instruction to the best of their ability, they “should also have a chance to earn a diploma.”

Other proposed pieces of legislation Kukenberger encouraged board members to keep their eyes on were: LR 1731 and LR 2727, which deal with career and technical education; LR2729, which deals with services for infants and toddlers birth to 5 years old with disabilities and LD 1710, which restores funding for school-based health centers to the 2016-2017 school year level, as well as several left over from last legislative session that may be taken back up again, which deal with strengthening water testing in schools and putting money in the school revolving renovation fund for school infrastructure projects across the state.

Staff Writer Michael Kelley can be reached at news@scarboroughleader.com.

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