Leaders in a western North Carolina county plan to hire and assign armed security guards, as opposed to armed volunteers, in every public school.
Henderson County leaders announced Thursday their plan to hire people with law enforcement or military backgrounds to serve as "highly trained" armed personnel at all 23 schools. Officials said they wanted to reassure the community about school safety following the Feb. 14 school shooting at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School in Florida that left 17 people dead.
“Henderson County has always been a sleepy little town," school board chairwoman Amy Lynn Holt said at a news conference. "We’ve not felt like we’re threatened here. Well, we have to start acting like we’re threatened.”
The Henderson County school system, located near Asheville, has 14,000 students.
Henderson County's approach is different from that in Stanly County, which will use a 2013 state law to place volunteer school resource officers at schools. The law allows sheriffs and police chiefs to use people who have police or military police experience as unpaid but armed volunteers at schools.
But Henderson County Sheriff Charles McDonald said he didn't think his office could find enough volunteers "to be able to hold the kind of standards that we want." He said the new guards won't be sworn law enforcement officers, but they'll need to pass the same vetting process used for hiring deputies.
The new armed guards will undergo psychological testing and receive specialized training. The goal is to have them in place by the start of the 2018-19 school year.
"As the sheriff alluded to, you can’t just pick people off the street," said Henderson County Manager Steve Wyatt.
There's been talk nationally, including from President Donald Trump, about training and arming some teachers with guns. But McDonald said a lot of people aren't comfortable with the idea of arming teachers.
“The consensus here from the Henderson County populace is that we need security people to do security," McDonald said. "We need teachers to be able to teach.”