Folsom Cordova Unified reveals policy letting some have guns on campus

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.

Select employees at the Folsom Cordova Unified School District have been allowed to store and access guns in case of an emergency for several years, district officials announced for the first time Tuesday.

The 20,000-student district has allowed a handful of staff with concealed-weapon permits to bring guns onto campus for the past six years. But Superintendent Deborah Bettencourt said Tuesday that she decided to send a letter to families explaining the policy after rumors circulated that teachers were being asked to carry guns on campus.

“We aren’t going to allow guns in the classroom,” she said, noting that teachers are not authorized to have firearms on campus. “We just aren’t going to do that.”

Folsom Cordova’s policy appears to be rare in the Sacramento region. Sacramento County’s four largest districts – Sacramento City Unified, Elk Grove Unified, San Juan Unified and Twin Rivers Unified – do not allow employees, other than law enforcement, to bring guns on campus, their spokespeople said Tuesday.

A new state law, Senate Bill 707, prohibits those with concealed-weapon permits to bring guns on campus except with written permission from the superintendent.

Bettencourt said she has worked with local law enforcement to implement a security program that includes allowing trained employees she approves to keep firearms at work in a locked gun vault near their work area. She said the gun would be used in case of a shooter on campus or for some other immediate danger.

“I’m too aware of the mass shootings in school communities and the dangers posed by criminals who want to do harm,” she said in her letter to parents.

Bettencourt said she has felt threatened in the past when the district laid off employees and knows of incidents involving angry people in the district office and at schools. She said police officers need two to three minutes to respond to a school, and that allowing qualified gun owners to keep weapons on campus makes help readily available.

Under the district’s policy, holders of concealed-weapon permits can ask for approval to leave a gun on campus in single-weapon vaults that require a key and digital combination to open. Bettencourt said only she and the gun owner have access to the vaults.

Because teachers and bus drivers aren’t allowed to bring weapons, permit holders are generally administrators or school support staff, she said.

About a third of the district’s 33 schools have a gun on campus, Bettencourt said. She wouldn’t reveal which schools for security reasons.

“There are not enough to cover all the schools,” she said.

The district hadn’t widely shared its policy because Bettencourt said it is a security protocol that is best not shared. Because state law allows a superintendent to decide who can bring a gun on campus, the topic is generally discussed in closed session as a personnel matter and the item never makes its way onto an agenda, she said.

Teachers and parents were only made aware of the policy and the guns on campus on Tuesday.

“This is a long-standing practice that is legal and necessary and is unfortunately a sad reflection of the dangers in our society today,” said district spokesman Daniel Thigpen.

Jana Lee Daebelliehn, an officer in the Parent-Teacher-Student Organization at Vista del Lago, said she only learned Tuesday about the policy. She has a daughter who is a junior at the high school and a son in sixth grade at Folsom Middle School.

She said she was still thinking through the issues.

“This is all new to me because I didn’t know they had done that,” Daebelliehn said.

“There are pros and cons. There have been so many school shootings that by having the guns on campus someone might be able to stop an intruder,” she said. “Of course, there are other ways to stop intruders, too, without having the guns.”

On the other hand, she said, “I don’t know where the guns are. All of the schools are so different. I don’t know if they would be easily accessible to get to on time.”

Participants aren’t sought out, but have learned of the program by word of mouth, according to Bettencourt. The publicity generated by the letter could bring more requests, she said.

The Folsom Cordova Unified policy requires the concealed-weapon permit holder to work with an approved trainer and go through a personal interview with Bettencourt. Applicants also must carry their own personal liability insurance. There is not extra pay for the responsibility, Bettencourt said.

The weapon carriers are expected to follow certain protocols before, during and after an active shooter scenario, Bettencourt said. She said she couldn’t be more specific – for security reasons.

“They believe in standing between someone that wants to do harm to our kids,” Bettencourt said.

The school board has signed off on the policy, she said.

Sacramento County Sheriff’s Department Sgt. Tony Turnbull said his agency’s role is to be the “issuing authority” for concealed-weapon permits. His department has issued 7,500 such permits, but did not have data Tuesday on how many of those belong to Folsom Cordova school employees.

“We remain a resource for the school district or the Folsom Police Department should they ask,” Turnbull said. “But they’re an independent school district. They can make their own decisions under the law.”

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Spokespeople for other districts in the Sacramento area said they do not authorize employees to carry concealed weapons on campus.

“The question has come up before,” said Trent Allen, spokesman for the San Juan Unified School District, which has 49,600 students. “The only individuals we would allow to have any weapons on our campuses are law enforcement personnel.”

The question came up, Allen said, when individuals on campus “for whatever reason” felt a security issue existed. He said the board has an adopted policy “and our practice does not allow for weapons to be on our campus, period, except for law enforcement.”

Diana Lambert: 916-321-1090, @dianalambert