The Rio Rancho school board voted 4-1 Monday evening to put guns in the hands of school security guards. The measure is aimed at keeping students safe in the wake of school shootings here and across the nation.
Four parents spoke against the proposal before the vote. Lisa Paz mentioned recent incidents including one this week in a Baltimore school where a school police officer shot and killed himself.
"There’s just so many things that can happen with guns, it’s really terrifying," said Paz. "I really urge more consideration on this issue because guns don’t make places safer."
The board discussed concerns like legal liability, the cost of alternative security measures, and a potential shortage of candidates who will be required to have backgrounds in law enforcement, the military or corrections.
The plan is different from other New Mexico school districts' in that Rio Rancho Public Schools will employ their own armed security personnel, rather than utilizing sworn officers from local law enforcement or contracting with a private security firm. District Chief of Operations Mike Baker says they will hire each guard for about $45,000 per year, compared to the $100,000 per year it takes for the City of Rio Rancho to equip and pay each of its police officers.
Before voting yes, board member Wynne Coleman said she wants to see school guards building relationships with students rather than keeping to themselves, in an effort to head off situations that could lead to violence.
"My hope would be that we see them dispersed more, even just sitting in a classroom for example, and becoming more connected with the students," said Coleman.
The single “no” vote was board president Ramon Montaño. He said they had not followed procedural guidelines outlined by the New Mexico School Boards Association, which could open the district to lawsuits down the line.
In a related action, the board unanimously voted to create an internal committee on mental health to study the services currently available to students in the district and make recommendations on how to expand those services.
“If we are sitting up here and looking at arming guards," said Coleman, who will chair the mental health committee, "we need to look at being proactive in dealing with some of the issues that would minimize the possibility of an active shooter situation.”
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