Not enough school security, but parents don’t want armed SRO’s

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Speaker Tina Muna Barnes and Sen. Jose "Pedo" Terlaje (PNC photo)

Guam –  Two enterprising Democratic senators are hoping that a series of fact-finding meetings with key stakeholders will pay off in improved school safety at a time when students themselves are causing much of the mayhem.

PNC met with Speaker Tina Muna Barnes and Sen. Pedo Terlaje on Friday to get the inside scoop on their rapidly evolving plan to bring basic care to students acting out in desperation, while exploring ways of protecting the school environment and its innocent bystanders with the most effective means necessary.

For this pair of lawmakers, it’s all about dialoguing with those immediately concerned, followed by informed and timely action. During a get-together with police officers and school officials at the Guam Congress Building in Hagatna on Thursday, the senatorial duo learned that despite limited resources, law enforcers and the school system are working diligently behind the scenes to reign in out-of-control student behavior.

This academic year has reached a level of unruliness that keeps Dept. of Education officials on high alert to break up fight clubs, track down the source of random ammunition, and—in one case—isolate the circumstances that triggered the discharge of a BB-gun that cracked a windshield on a school bus. And, in another incident, to investigate a student’s threats to shoot up a school campus. All of these are signs of growing violence surfacing in what’s supposed to be a peaceful learning environment guaranteed by the island’s Adequate Education Act.

Yet, owing to the better matriculating and living conditions in schools and youth detention facilities, government infrastructure has come to symbolize a welcome refuge and attention-grabbing arena for the venting of pent-up teenage angst, spurring the institutionalization of rebellious adolescents.

But where to begin? Before learning not all moms and dads are quite as ready as he is to take such decisive action, Terlaje, as a former local police officer, former Yona mayor, and the current Chairman of the Legislature’s Safety Committee was ready to enable the permitted use of lethal force by trained personnel on school grounds, as may be required by circumstance.

On Friday PNC interviewed Sen. Terlaje and Speaker Muna Barnes in Terlaje’s second-floor offices in Hagatna, just around the corner and down the street from the Guam Congress Building where they’re both about to get down to business as lawmakers in the newly sworn 35th Legislature.

“In as far as getting the consensus of the community regarding providing the tools for the securities up there to make sure that they have those tools, such as weapons or baton or mace or whatever, but as far as what I have gathered, most parents do not want to have weapons in the school and in the possession of those securities,” Terlaje said regarding security personnel assigned to public schools.

But citing examples in schools in the US mainland that already have armed security due to the rampancy of violence and campus mass shootings across the nation, Terlaje insists there may come a time when Guam may not have a choice but to begin arming trained and licensed security personnel on local school grounds.

Rhetorically, PNC asked Speaker Muna Barnes and Sen. Terlaje whether they would ever consider historical precedence in which armed school resource officers or guards have acted as a deterrent to the escalation of violence in schools in such places as North American states and provinces, should a bill ever reach the halls of the legislature for testimony, debate and vote.

PNC asked in the context of frequent school fights in Guam public schools, particularly within the current academic year, and the liabilities they may cause for schools, faculty and administrators, to say nothing of the ongoing danger to students’ lives and health.

Terlaje made his stance in favor of armed security crystal clear. Speaker Muna Barnes said the loss of control over such misbehavior is partially “because there is a lack of school safety officers” on local campuses and focused on addressing the factors that motivate student misbehavior in the first place.

“The concern that was brought up regarding behavioral health and what is the impetus of why the situation is happening with the student–where the student is [emotionally] when they get in trouble and go to Dept. of Youth Affairs or any of the schools–they’re in their mind thinking that they will have three meals a day and be in air conditioning and have a place to shower,” Muna Barnes said. “And so what are the underlying issues with that family?”