The Public Eye

Folsom Cordova gun policy unique among large Sacramento area school districts

A student drags a wagon full of breakfasts from the cafeteria to a classroom at White Rock Elementary School in Rancho Cordova on Friday, March 20, 2015.
A student drags a wagon full of breakfasts from the cafeteria to a classroom at White Rock Elementary School in Rancho Cordova on Friday, March 20, 2015. Sacramento Bee file

Folsom Cordova Unified is the only large school district in the four-county Sacramento region known to allow select employees to bring a gun onto campus, based on a Sacramento Bee review this week of local policies.

Officials at nine of the largest districts in Sacramento, Placer, El Dorado and Yolo counties said employees cannot bring guns to school, though some specified that law enforcement and resource officers have exemptions.

“Our superintendent does not give any permission to anyone to carry a concealed weapon in our district except for our school resource officer, who is a sworn police officer,” said Maria Clayton, spokeswoman for the Davis Joint Unified School District.

Other districts surveyed include: Elk Grove Unified, Sacramento City Unified, San Juan Unified, Twin Rivers Unified, Roseville City School, El Dorado Union High School, Natomas Unified and Rocklin Unified. Roseville Joint Union High School District did not respond this week.

At Folsom Cordova, Superintendent Deborah Bettencourt on Tuesday sent letters to parents explaining her district’s policy of allowing some employees with concealed weapons permits to bring their guns to campus. She informed parents for the first time after after rumors surfaced that teachers were being asked to carry guns at school.

The weapons are locked in single-gun vaults on school grounds and are accessible in the event of an emergency or threat at about a third of the district’s 33 schools. Only Bettencourt and the gun owner – generally administrators or support staff – have access to the vaults through a key and digital combination. Teachers and bus drivers are prohibited from bringing weapons onto school grounds.

District spokesman Daniel Thigpen said no single incident or threat prompted the decision about six years ago to begin granting permission to employees to store firearms on campus if they have permits to carry concealed weapons. In Sacramento County, the sheriff has issued about 7,500 permits.

“The superintendent works routinely with staff and law enforcement to evaluate safety needs in our facilities and school sites,” Thigpen said in an email, “and this practice began as part of those ongoing conversations.”

Parental reactions were mixed.

“I personally think it’s a great idea,” said Lacy Brown, treasurer of the parent-teacher-student association for Cordova High School and the mother of a boy and girl still in high school. “I fully support their decision.”

Brown said she is very involved with the school and finds that many other parents “share pretty much the same thoughts. It’s a great idea, and our kids need to be protected.”

But Mark Beckford, who has children in Sutter Middle School and Folsom High School, said the policy is flawed.

There is a chance, albeit slim, that a mentally disturbed person could go to a site where a gun is stored, Beckford said. Then the person who owns the locked gun “has to be able to open it in time and do it in such a way that he’s actually protecting lives.”

The planning for such an occurrence, he said, “is hidden from parents who are entrusting their kids to these schools. That is very concerning.”

At a school board meeting Thursday night, a handful of parents also voiced alarm.

Jessica Rose of Folsom, whose older daughter will enter kindergarten in the fall, told trustees she is “terrified that there are people I can’t vet personally or know anything about that might have a gun near my child.”

She said Friday that she plans to meet with Bettencourt. But she remains worried.

“I don’t believe in guns on school campus,” she said. “But given this law, my big question right now is: Where does this end? With teachers and parents having guns? There are concerned parents who worry about how experimental this is. Now that it is so publicized, I’m fearful it will grow.”

Rancho Cordova Police Chief Michael R. Goold told trustees at the meeting he has “complete confidence” in Bettencourt.

“I am confident in the training of those who have been allowed this privilege,” he said. “We’re in a much different world than when I went to high school in the ’80s.”

When he attended high school, he said, the worst he witnessed was a fistfight and bloody nose.

“Those days are over,” he said.

Anderson Union High School District, about 150 miles north of Sacramento, has drawn attention for its embrace of permitted gun owners. The district’s policy is to allow any adult with an unrestricted concealed weapons permit to bring a gun onto campus.

Anderson Superintendent Tim Azevedo said Shasta County, as a rural area, has many more residents per capita who carry concealed weapons, and many of them would be breaking the law just by dropping off their children with weapons in their possession. The district, with about 1,800 students, operates five high schools.

The Shasta County Sheriff’s Department said about 6,900 residents have permits to carry concealed weapons. That translates to about one permit for every 26 county residents.

“Our concern was that our law-abiding normal citizens would be in jeopardy” just by showing up with a child. “So we passed a policy that says any persons who do legally possess a concealed carry weapons permit without any restrictions can access our property.”

Azevedo said the policy became necessary after passage of a new state law, Senate Bill 707, which prohibits those with concealed weapons permits from bringing guns on campus except with written permission from the superintendent or equivalent school authority.

Azevedo said his district received plenty of attention when the decision was made. But most people supported the idea. “We were, I think, the first. So we got a lot of hoopla.”

Now things have settled down, he said, and “other superintendents in various areas have called me to inquire what we said and how we did it.”

Editor’s note: This story was modified on Sunday, March 13, 2016, to remove a sentence that incorrectly characterized the scope of Senate Bill 707.

Loretta Kalb: 916-321-1073, @LorettaSacBee

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