The chairman of the Kiona-Benton City School Board asked district patrons to be up front with their concerns Monday night after a complaint was filed with a state education organization.
The complaint stemmed from a public forum the district had last week about a proposed policy to arm select school administrators as security personnel. It accused the board of violating the state’s open public meetings laws and improperly funding the policy before it was fully approved by the board.
Chairman Tim Cook refuted the claims and said the board had done “everything by the book 100 percent.” He added that neither he nor any other board member had heard from the resident before, despite having previously asked the public to approach them with concerns.
“We respond to questions as best we can,” Cook said.
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Board members have discussed the policy for weeks, motivated by past incidents at other schools around the country involving gunmen attacking schools, particularly the Sandy Hook massacre in Connecticut that left 26 people dead, most of them children, in December 2012.
The proposal would reimburse school officials who volunteer as security officers and carry a .380- or 9 mm-caliber pistol, holster and ammunition. The district also would pay for training and licensing.
Board members and district officials have said those officers won’t be publicly identified so an attacker wouldn’t be able to target them.
Most residents who commented on the policy at a board meeting prior to the public forum were supportive of arming school employees, though some said the public should know who would be authorized to carry a gun on school grounds. A few called for those selected to be psychologically evaluated before being allowed to have a gun in schools.
The complaint filed with the Washington State School Directors’ Association, a state governmental organization representing local school board members, didn’t specify how the board violated open public meeting laws. But it criticized the district’s funding of firearms training for select administrators though the board had not yet approved the policy.
The board was originally scheduled to vote on the policy Monday night but held off as Vice Chairwoman Leslie Johnson was absent and Cook said he wanted the full board available for the vote. The board had previously voted to pay for firearms training for select administrators at a prior board meeting.
Board members have stressed they wanted to hear from the public on the policy, noting they’ve welcomed comment at board meetings and their phone numbers and email are posted on the district website. Filing complaints through other agencies without attempting to talk to the board doesn’t help that process, Cook said.
Also Monday, Superintendent Wade Haun notified the board that students were being moved out of the remaining portable classrooms at the district’s elementary and middle schools because of air quality concerns.
The portables have been in place for decades and are in poor repair. Administrators and teachers are looking to place the students in classrooms in the school buildings, which are already overcrowded.
The district had to move students out of some portable classrooms a few years ago after black mold was found. Those portables have since been removed.
Board members placed a $750,000 capital levy on the ballot in February to secure money to replace most of the district’s portable classrooms. Voters rejected the levy, with school leaders attributing the loss to low voter turnout but some others blaming it on divisive politics in the district.