Senator laments missed chance to protect schools

Images of this week's school shooting in Nashville, causing many parents to think again, what if that happens at my child's school.
Published: Mar. 30, 2023 at 7:20 PM EDT
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CHARLESTON, W.Va. (WSAZ) - Images of this week’s school shooting in Nashville caused many parents to think again, what if that happens at my child’s school?

“It was sickening,” said Sen. Eric Tarr, R-Putnam. “It was hard to watch.”

Tarr, father to three grown children, says almost instantly his thoughts turned to the Guardian Program -- a proposal aimed at keeping your children safe, but one that never became law.

“How quickly was it that you thought back to what could have been?” asked WSAZ NewsChannel 3 Reporter Curtis Johnson.

“Instantly,” Tarr replied. “Instantly. When that person -- think about it -- when you saw the video, that person, they entered the school by shooting out the glass and the alarms went off. Think about if you had a Navy Seal or if you had an Army Ranger in that school whose job is to run at that gun when that happened.

“Do you think they would have even made it through the second door?

“I think the answer’s, ‘No.’”

The proposal, Senate Bill 282, would have allowed local school systems to hire honorably discharged military veterans or retired law enforcement as an armed presence to protect your child’s school.

It carried broad support in the Senate and won approval by the House Education Committee, but never made it onto an agenda in the House Judiciary Committee and died.

Johnson called and text messaged House Judiciary Chairman Moore Capito, R-Kanawha, Thursday morning asking why his committee never took up the legislation. Johnson had received no response as of 6 p.m. Thursday.

“It’s very frustrating,” Tarr said. “This should have been slam dunk legislation.”

But even if the proposal were to pass, could local school systems afford it?

Johnson turned to State Auditor J.B. McCuskey, R-West Virginia. His office reviews budgets for every school system.

“At the end of the day, I believe that they have the financial resources to do it now,” McCuskey said. “But if a county were to say, ‘We’re cash strapped. We just can’t make that work,’ I think it’s very, very possible for all of us state leaders to look into our budget surpluses and look into the way that we allocate money, and find the resources we need to make this work.”

The proposal would have been an option -- not a requirement -- for local school districts.

Guardians would not have served as law enforcement, and they they would have had no arrest power. Their mission — to protect life and property.

Additionally, each guardian would have been an independent contractor — not eligible for the perks of full-time, school employment.

Tarr said he holds out hope that the proposal could be added to a special session agenda, but that is far from guaranteed.