Parents ask DMUSD to take stand on assault weapons in safety resolution

At the May 23 board meeting, parents demanded that the Del Mar Union School District (DMUSD) consider stronger language in its school safety resolution and call for a ban on assault weapons.

The DMUSD board passed a resolution last month that deleted the language regarding an outright ban on “semi-automatic weapons” as well as a ban on high capacity magazines, bump stocks and any other equipment, alteration or modification that would increase a firearm’s capacity for ammunition or rate of fire— language that has been adopted by the boards of the Solana Beach, San Dieguito Union, San Diego Unified, Encinitas, Cardiff and Vista school districts.

The vote on the resolution was 4-1 with trustee Scott Wooden opposed.

Del Mar’s resolution was drafted after a “few brave mama bears” approached the board in March, requesting a resolution on gun violence following the Feb. 14 shooting at Parkland High School in which 17 people were killed. The May 23 meeting was just days removed from a shooting at Santa Fe High School in which 10 people were killed at school.

DMUSD President Kristin Gibson said that the resolution the board passed does demand action from state and federal representatives to adopt stricter controls governing the sale, transfer, possession, manufacturing, and distribution of all firearms, dangerous weapons and ammunition. Those stricter controls include comprehensive and thorough background checks of all purchases of firearms as well as reasonable waiting periods and mandated training in the safe use of guns. It stopped short of calling for the outright ban.

“Personally, preventing gun violence is my passion,” said Gibson, who as a child attended Sandy Hook Elementary and was a grad student at San Diego State University when her professor friend was one of three killed when a student opened fire on campus in 1996.

While Gibson said she feels strongly about the issue, she also feels strongly about the ways school boards operate and their mandates. She said what the board was being asked to do was a departure from what a school district’s role is and she said “there must be respect for a variety of opinions on complex and very important matters.”

“Some concur with the inclusion of the specific language and others do not. While they may support such firearm bans as individual citizens, as some of us here on the board do as well, they do not believe that is the role of the school district to do so,” Gibson said.

Gibson said she believes the resolution is stronger than others that have passed because it includes the district’s implementation of research-based social and emotional learning curriculum, that all personnel are trained in options-based training response to an active shooting, the importance of threat assessment and the inclusion of mental health experts’ policies that promote a positive school environment so every child feels connected and included.

Parents such as Kristen Panebianco, a Torrey Hills School parent and member of San Diegans for Gun Violence Prevention, said the resulting resolution does not represent the community at all—she did a quick poll of the full audience at Del Mar Hills Academy and no one raised their hand when asked if they were satisfied with the way it was written.

Torrey Hills School parent Suzanne Hall requested that the board reinstate the draft language calling for a ban on assault-style weapons as well as to strike the resolution’s language that stated the district would work with a broad spectrum of local community stakeholders, including gun owner organizations to provide educational opportunities on firearm safety.

“The draft was a response to the unsettling fact that has become the reality of our children’s lives today—that guns and specifically assault weapons are killing our students in their classrooms,” Hall said. “I heard the board president say that the perspective of this board is that the language which I am requesting is not your purview, that it’s outside the scope of what you should be recommending in response to this crisis. But I ask you: If not you, than who? You are the policy setters for our elementary campuses. And so long as our national policy setters can do no more than send their thoughts and prayers to the grieving families, then parents and representatives that they elect to serve their children at the school sites must take matters into their own hands.”

On May 24, neighboring Solana Beach School District took its already-adopted resolution a step further and adopted an amended community safety resolution that specifically called on the 22nd District Agricultural Association, as the board of directors for the Del Mar Fairgrounds, to discontinue hosting gun shows at the fairgrounds.

At DMUSD’s April meeting, there were two hours of discussion on the resolution in which the board voiced a variety of opinions on the topic.

During public comment, Michael Schwartz, of San Diego County Gun Owners, spoke out against Del Mar including the “outright ban” language in the resolution stating that it was “inappropriate” for a school board to advance an anti-second amendment agenda.

“Most of the resolution is fantastic. Everybody wants children to be safe and be in a safe environment but unfortunately it goes off the rails wildly when it starts to talk about the second amendment issues and banning guns specifically,” Schwartz said.

Schwartz said that to pass a resolution against semi-automatic weapons was “extreme” when approximately 65 percent of the guns owned by civilians in America are semi-automatic and 80 percent of those sold are semi-automatic.

In their discussions, the board was committed to school safety but uncomfortable “politicizing” the school board and crafting what Wooden said had become a gun control resolution.

Board members Gibson, Doug Rafner and Scott Wooden felt that the language of an outright ban felt outside of the board’s realm of responsibility while Erica Halpern and Stephen Cochrane wanted to keep the language in. The language of the outright ban was not recommended by the California School Boards Association.

“This was brought to table by the community that elected us—I don’t feel it’s politicizing,” Cochrane said. “In our belief statement we talk about empowering our students to be thinkers and change makers. We need to model what we want our students to be. What we say isn’t going to change the national law on gun control. But if we’re like a drop in the ocean at least we’re contributing to the degree we can.”

Even without the ban language, Wooden could not support the resolution as he believes it is outside their mandate as a school board to advocate for stricter controls.

At the May 23 meeting, parents spoke up that they believed that the school board calling for a ban in its resolution was reasonable.

“I was shocked by the board’s decision to gut the resolution to our legislators of this most important language simply because you believe it was not in your role,” said Cheryl Landale of San Diegans for Gun Violence Prevention. “It is absolutely within the role of the school board, who places student safety above all else. Legislators need to hear in the strongest possible tones that we need laws that will keep our communities and our children safe.”

Landale said she was also “dismayed” by the resolution’s call for working with gun-owner organizations. Del Mar Heights parent Gary Brice agreed and said that any education on gun safety should be done by the parents or by law enforcement, “It just opens a Pandora’s Box if allowing other gun groups to come in here and try to have an audience with our children,” he said.

While earlier in the meeting Gibson said the board would not be taking further action on the resolution, she said during public comment was the first time she heard parents ask specifically for an “assault weapon ban” rather than a “semi-automatic” ban and that she requested that the resolution be referred to staff for further study.

“What this district will not do, and I say this loudly and emphatically for the record, is under any circumstance invite any gun ownership organization into our classrooms to train our children on the safe use of firearms,” Gibson said. “It will not happen.”

Gibson said the district has begun conversations with local organizations such as San Diegans for Gun Violence Prevention and Be Smart looking for areas to collaborate outside of the resolution. Already the district has shared resources such as “ASK”, which encourages parents to ask if weapons are safely stored before allowing children to play at a friend and neighbors’ homes.

“That is the sort of common ground that we can find that can potentially save a life,” Gibson said.

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