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Activists make case for arming schoolteachers

Jane Bilello urges audience to work for arming schoolteachers. Jane Bilello urges audience to work for arming schoolteachers.

Thirty-eight people turned out for a “school safety education and awareness afternoon” on Saturday put on by activists who want the Henderson County School Board to authorize teachers to carry firearms in the classroom.

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Jane Bilello urges audience to work for arming schoolteachers.

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Jane Bilello, a Tea Party leader and conservative activist, organized the event as part of a push she has made to arm local schoolteachers in the aftermath of the Parkland High School massacre that left 17 students and faculty members dead on Feb. 14. Flanked by posters at Fruitful Seasons Pistol Packing gun shop on how to hold and shoot a handgun, Bilello urged the audience to help her lobby the School Board and the Legislature to allow willing and trained teachers to arm themselves.
“The schools have teachers that do have their conceal-carry permits, they’re familiar with firearms and they are incredibly worried about school safety,” she said.

Also attending the event at the Spartanburg Highway gun shop owned by Larry and Debra Jackson were county Commissioner Grady Hawkins and his wife, Doris, president of the Republican Women's Club; Republican Men's Club President Bruce Hatfield and Rebecca McCall, a Republican candidate for the District 4 Board of Commissioners seat.
Retired from teaching in New York and California, Bilello has worked in Henderson County schools for the past three years.
“I work as a sub and I am telling you our schools are not safe,” she said.
She said the “good news” was that Sheriff Charlie McDonald had already taken action to protect schools by paying off-duty deputies overtime to cover those schools with no school resource officer and by pledging to put SROs in every school next school year. Security now, she said, is lax.
“Walking right through the front door, nobody stops you, nobody asks you. I mean no harm but suppose I did,” she said. Even when she’s forgotten her school ID, “nobody’s asked me for my ID. They haven’t even asked me for my drivers license.”
She asks the custodian to unlock the classroom door and then lock it back behind her. A creative solution happened in one school where she had made a fuss about locking her classroom door. The principal set up a board with hooks on it and made teachers give up their car keys for a room key. “Brilliant,” she said. “That is something that is cheap, it’s easy, you can do it yesterday.”
But allowing qualified teachers to carry weapons, she insisted, is the ultimate last line of defense.
“Our sheriff has been great in thwarting the threat in our district to our students,” she said. “What happens when the one gets away, or the two get away? Where is that child in that building? Where are they? They’re with a teacher in the classroom, they’re with a coach in the gym, they’re in the cafeteria. What is the one place that they’re not talking about? The classroom.”
She faces an uphill battle, locally and at the state level. No member of the School Board, the Board of Commissioners or the legislative delegation has publicly called for arming schoolteachers. The elected state superintendent of schools, a Republican, has come out against teachers carrying firearms, and the idea is not on a list of school safety recommendations the House Select Committee on School Safety has drafted.

Bilello acknowledged as much.
LisaEdwardsLisa Edwards“I have talked to School Board members. There is absolutely no appetite there (for arming teachers). None,” she said. “A lot of them are Second Amendment folks but they do not want to arm our staff.”
Lisa Edwards, the only School Board to attend the event, confirmed that.

A gun owner and a strong supporter of the Second Amendment, Edwards is also the mother of a middle school teacher. “I do not want my son to arm himself,” she said. “They have fights they have to break up. If he’s trying to break up a fight, if he’s armed, if it’s on his person, who’s going to get that gun?”

Bilello applauded the state Legislature’s efforts so far to address school safety but said that, too, fell short because it doesn’t contemplate arming teachers.
“Where are the kids? Where is the shooter going? He’s going into the classroom,” he said.

A handful of people associated with liberal groups attended the event to ask questions and hear Bilello's pitch for arming teachers.

Sissy Owen, a member of the Progressive Women of Hendersonville, argued against instituting "a prison mentality" that will prevent schools from "just letting them be kids."

Charlie McDonaldCharlie McDonaldWhile Sheriff McDonald has not talked about arming schoolteachers as part of his new security response, he did not rule out the idea out in speaking to an audience that appeared mostly to support the idea. He applauded Bilello’s passion in speaking out.
“She’s kind of the squeaky wheel,” he said. “She probably makes people uncomfortable but there’s nothing I heard her say that is untrue or is wrong. Is it uncomfortable? A little bit, but that just means she and other people have identified areas that need to be looked at and need to be taken care of.”
“There’s parents who think deputies shouldn’t have guns in schools, believe it or not," he said. "But I do believe that done the right way it certainly is another solution, another piece of the puzzle. It’s just one more thing that’s unknown by somebody who might come to the school and try to bring harm to the kids. They don’t know who’s carrying. Right now, it’s not legal.”

Debra Jackson, the gun shop owner, said if School Board members oppose arming teachers, she and other like-minded voters will take action.

“We’re going to vote ‘em out if we can,” she said. “It’s not going to be every teacher that has a conceal-carry permit. It’s only going to be those teachers that are wlling to be vetted through the sheriff’s department, through the psychological checks and get further training and are willing to take that responsibility. …

"Jane calls it layers of protection. If they get through the resource officer, if they get through all the security checks and they shoot through that door and the students are laying on the floor like they’re supposed to do, what are they going to do, throw a book at him. She’s a teacher. She’s seen how insecure the schools are.”