By Brandon Martin
Officials in the Henry County School division said a proposal to offer firearms training in schools may have merit.
Darryl Holland, instructor of the Hunting Safety Course at Henry County Public School’s Career Academy, said the measure would “provide a way to train on the safe handling of firearms.”
A bill filed in late 2019 by Senate Republican Leader Tommy Norment, R-Williamsburg, SB 129, would require all school districts in the Commonwealth to offer firearm safety courses to students.
If the bill passes, then school boards in Virginia will be required to offer at least two hours of firearms safety instruction that will be taught by a school resource officer, law enforcement officer or U.S. Armed Forces instructor.
The program would be available to all grades but actual firearms would be prohibited during instruction. Under the current law, schools can already offer firearm safety education but there are no guidelines on who may instruct the course.
The course falls under the umbrella of Agriculture and Veterinary Science, which is headed by Holland.
He said in order for him to teach that he had to become a licensed hunter education instructor which requires 20 hours of instruction.
Speaking on instruction, Holland said “teachers are the one’s best qualified to teach if they have the certification” but he added “I’m sure outside law enforcement or our resource officers can provide just as valuable instruction.”
As far as delivery of instruction, Holland said that “online courses help speed up the process. There aren’t many teachers that teach firearm safety in the classroom. It might be easier to take advantage of these courses,” if SB 129 passes.
Whether or not the bill passes, Holland agrees that there is still value in firearm safety courses for students.
“Even people that are opposed to gun legislation, I would think everybody would look at safe firearm training as beneficial. I don’t think you can say more education is necessarily a bad thing,” he said, and added that programs like his “are very valuable even for people that don’t hunt.”
Henry County Public Schools Superintendent Sandy Strayer said she in concerned about logistics if the program is rolled out.
“While we certainly want our students to be as knowledgeable as possible in all areas of safety, I am concerned about how we might be able to appropriately staff an additional course,” Strayer said.
The bill requires the Virginia Department of Education (DOE) to work with the Department of Criminal Justice Services to establish the curriculum for the program. DOE estimates the total state cost in fiscal year 2021 to be $35,000 with $30,000 needed for consulting fees and the other $5,000 being used for two stakeholder meetings to ensure proper development and rollout of the curriculum.
Whether or not the bill passes legislator’s muster, Strayer said that the schools are already working on precautions to maintain a safe learning environment.
“In addition to ongoing education and drills that prepare students and staff for any type of emergency, we have a number of safety measures in place that protect our students and staff each day,” she said. “Our division and school-based safety teams evaluate our processes each year and make adjustments regularly to ensure that everyone is in a safe learning environment each day. We appreciate the partnership we have with local law enforcement and the collaboration we have with them through the school resource officer and patrol programs each day as well.”
Strayer noted that her staff continues to work on “character education and Positive Behavior Interventions and Supports.” These coupled with “anonymous reporting of concerns,” make up part of the school’s plan-of-action moving forward.
“Continued collaboration with students and their families on positive interactions and conflict resolution will be an ongoing focus for us moving forward as well,” she said. “We believe that relationships are key for supporting students in both their academic and social emotional growth and hope to see further support for those efforts from our partners and the state legislature.”