Some Eliot Elementary School parents oppose armed security guard
BY ANDREA EGER World Staff Writer
Tuesday, February 19, 2013
2/19/13 at 9:31 AM
Can school security be bought?
That is the question being posed by a small group of parents at Eliot Elementary School who are opposed to a new armed security guard being paid through parent donations - but they are in the minority.
"Parents should not have the ability to force their beliefs onto a public school. We have our vote and that's for our school board member. The decision needs to be made by the school board and based on evidence, not based on fear and not a hysterical reaction," said Amy Anderson, mother of two - one current and one former Eliot student.
She has signed up to speak to the issue at Tuesday's school board meeting, set for 6:30 p.m. at the Education Service Center, 3027 S. New Haven Ave.
In the aftermath of December's school shootings in Newtown, Conn., another Eliot parent offered to donate $10,000 to cover the cost of a Securitas contract guard through the end of 2012-13. Pushback from other parents prompted Principal Gina Metcalf to conduct a school-wide survey and hold three parent meetings. Ultimately, the donation was accepted and the guard started this month at the school, 1442 E. 36th St.
"I'm new to Eliot this year. I've had some concerns about building security since the beginning of the year," said Metcalf. "Based on the feedback from the survey and three meetings, a majority of parents support having an armed security guard. It was a collaborative decision between Eliot parents and TPS administration."
Anderson readily admits she was among only a dozen parents out of 200 or so total respondents who voted "No," but she contends the decision to employ an armed guard shouldn't be a site-based decision.
"I kind of get the feeling I'm being looked at like, 'why wouldn't you want a guard?' But there is no evidence that our kids are going to be safer with this," she said. "What about the kids on the north side or east side of town who may not have a parent with $10,000 to spare to buy a security guard? Are they saying those children do not deserve the same level of safety as my child?"
Chris Pettet, the father of a fifth-grader at Eliot, was also in the minority, but took his concerns directly to Superintendent Keith Ballard.
"Allowing private donors to make personnel and policy decisions seems fraught with danger," he wrote to Ballard, in a letter he shared with the Tulsa World. "I also have a moral issue with the idea that we might decide that the best way to protect our children is with an armed guard, but that only the 'wealthy' schools will be able to afford to do this If we decide that this is the way we want to go, then it needs to be a decision made as a district and funded by the taxpayers."
District-level administrators at Tulsa Public Schools pointed to school board policy 5803, which exempts such donated funds from the bidding and board approval requirements of purchasing policy provided they are deemed "appropriate" by a principal or other official and the spending instructions are not in violation of statutory law.
Campus Police Chief Gary Rudick said he sees the donation-funded security guard as no different than a donation- or grant-funded reading teacher position, of which TPS has many, but ultimately, the decision in this case was up to the Eliot principal.
"When we had the forums, it was clear that the overwhelming majority of parents wanted the guard to be funded. Ultimately, it was Gina Metcalf's decision," he said.
Asked about his assessment of Eliot's security needs, Rudick said the school ranked 15th out of a list of 15 sites that were designated in the fall for bond-funded security upgrades during 2012-13.
"Eliot has no security system at all. No security doors, no cameras, absolutely nothing," he said. "Magnetic doors and security cameras should be in place by April and once that happens, Ms. Metcalf will have to decide whether she wants to keep the security guard through the end of the semester or send any remaining funds back to the PTA."
As for any disparities between Eliot and a school whose parents could not afford such a gift, Rudick acknowledged that one exists. But he pointed out the same is true in other respects, such as schools that receive large grants for reading programs and those that don't.
"There is a disparity when gifts are given. If I had my choice, I wouldn't be using security guards. I would have a police officer in a police car that could go to multiple school sites, but that costs a lot more," Rudick said.
Asked to respond to the same concern, Principal Metcalf said, "At the end of the day, my responsibility is to the 430 students who sit at desks at Eliot Elementary."
Original Print Headline: Hiring of guard stirs opposition from some
Andrea Eger 918-581-8470