The Del Mar Union School board revisited its school safety resolution on Aug. 29 and decided not to include an outright ban on semi-automatic or assault weapons. A group of parents has been requesting the ban since the board passed the safety resolution without one in April.
The board did agree to remove language regarding working with community stakeholders, including gun owner organizations, to develop educational opportunities on firearm safety. Many parents believed the language was too vague and “dangerous.”
The board is expected to vote on the revised resolution at its Sept. 26 meeting.
Parents such as Kristen Panebianco, a member of San Diegans for Gun Violence Prevention, have spoken out on the district’s resolution at the May and June board meetings. Panebianco and others were calling for stronger language that included a ban on assault weapons but also 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.
Clerk Erica Halpern said she was disappointed that the board was not including the ban in the resolution but she was in the minority. Only she and Stephen Cochrane supported including the ban.
“This came from the community and was a strong voice,” Cochrane said. “I could see them feeling like we’re not listening to them.”
President Kristin Gibson disagreed, saying she did listen but she does not agree.
Gibson said in response to the request to add the language, she reached out to Sandy Hook Promise, the California School Boards Association (CSBA) and legal counsel to discuss whether such a ban should be in a school board’s purview. She found it is legal and the board does have a right to include the language, however, the CSBA advised using broader, less specific language urging the state to invest in and support strategies to ensure that schools are safe and free from violence.
“Every single person I spoke with confirmed that a resolution, regardless of its contents, will have very little impact on making schools safer,” Gibson said. “To bring this sort of controversy here when I don’t believe this resolution in and of itself is going to have any meaningful impact frightens me and it troubles me.”
While Del Mar’s resolution does not call for a ban on assault weapons, it does demand action from state and federal representatives regarding the sale, transfer, possession, manufacturing, and distribution of all firearms, dangerous weapons and ammunition. Stricter controls referenced in the resolution include background checks of all purchases of firearms as well as reasonable waiting periods and mandated training in the safe use of guns.
The resolution also includes the district’s implementation of a social and emotional learning curriculum, options-based training for all staff in response to an active shooting and the inclusion of mental health experts’ policies that promote a positive school environment so every child feels connected.
“A lot of the stuff in the CSBA-recommended resolution is about mental health issues: depression, violence, bullying. These are the things that we can have a direct impact and make our schools here in Del Mar the safest they can be,” said board member Scott Wooden in favor of a resolution that stays out of the “partisan fray.” “We are a non-partisan board. We’re supposed to be non-partisan, we’re supposed to look out for what’s best for the students and we’re supposed to educate and that’s what I’ve been trying to advocate for here in my position on the board.”
Board member Doug Rafner said he did not see a resolution as having any effect as he hasn’t seen anything come out of other school districts adopting the stronger language, six months removed from the Feb. 14 shooting at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School in which 17 students and staff members were killed.
“A resolution is really a meaningless gesture,” Rafner said. “I don’t want to do something that’s meaningless that ends up polarizing our community which clearly it has.”
During public comment, the board heard from both sides of the issue.
Kara Chine, speaking on behalf of Team Enough, a group of teen activists from Canyon Crest Academy, Torrey Pines High School and San Dieguito High School Academy, argued that the words that the district uses do matter and a resolution could have an impact.
“(Team Enough) would like me to implore you to use your language, use your leadership and acknowledge your responsibility to the children of your district…They are a generation of future voters that know things must change and will,” said Chine. “They are tired of being afraid and they are looking at their communities, their teachers, their city leaders to make clear stands with specific language about what can or can’t happen in the schools. They hope to see these places as sanctuaries of safety again.”
Panebianco argued that a resolution is not meaningless when Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell talks about gun control being solved at the local level and the U.S. Secretary of Education Betsy DeVos considers allowing states to use federal educational grants to purchase guns for schools.
“Your voice matters,” Panebianco urged. “What you say to our officials matters. They care what you think and what represents us.”
Michael Schwartz of San Diego County Gun Owners encouraged the board to be school board members and not “anti-gun activists.”
“The last time I was here you passed a reasonable, middle-of-the road proclamation that you all pretty much agreed on. But that’s not enough for the extremists who aren’t happy with the proclamation that’s just about school safety,” Schwartz said. “Don’t allow yourself to be used and dragged into a national issue that is far beyond the scope of what you should be doing as a school board.”
Del Mar resident Paul Hines agreed, noting while he was in favor of reducing violence in schools of all kinds, a ban would present itself as a “blatant attempt” to undermine his second amendment rights.
While the board agreed to remove the language about gun owner groups and other stakeholder groups helping to provide educational opportunities on firearm safety and storage, they believed parents’ confusion was mostly in the “unfortunate” phrasing in the resolution.
“This never meant we were going to have gun owner organizations working directly with our children in our classrooms but safe storage is such a significant issue, I don’t think gun safety should be something that just happens at home,” Gibson said.
Wooden’s concern has been in the area of safe gun storage and educating the parent community. Gibson cited “frightening” statistics that approximately half of all gun owners don’t lock up their guns in their homes, including 40 percent of households with kids under age 18. Guns used in 80 percent of all incidents at schools were taken from the home of a friend or relative.
At the end of the last school year, the district promoted the ASK (Asking Saves Kids) Campaign which encourages parents to ask “Is there an unlocked gun in your house?” before sending a child over to play. As Halpern said, while the language in the resolution was troubling to some, the district should play a role and normalize the behavior of asking if firearms are safely stored, “That’s one way to have an actual impact,” she said.
During public comment, Schwartz had strong words for any board member who would support an assault weapons ban as well as for Cochrane personally.
“You’ve lost your party’s support and endorsement even though you worked so hard to get it when you ran,” Schwartz told Cochrane, referencing the Republican Party of San Diego County. “We’re going to run somebody against you in 2020.”
Schwartz told the board that if they voted in favor of a ban, San Diego County Gun Owner members would “show up in mass” until the decision was reversed and said board members would hear and see their names on political radio shows and in op-eds about the “extremism and gun activism” that they prefer to do over school board business.
“I don’t care if my name is on the news. I don’t care if I’m never elected again,” Gibson said in response. “I’m going to do what I think is best for kids and those who don’t agree with me, I apologize for that, but that is exactly how I’m going to be making my decisions.”
Cochrane echoed that he would not be bullied by threats of political consequences: “I am going to act with integrity and what I think is right,” he said.