CHATHAM, NJ - The Chatham Board of Education is planning to discuss whether it should place armed Class III Officers into district schools at its Oct. 1 meeting when the borough and township police chiefs will be in attendance.
But before Chatham Borough Police Chief Brian Gibbons and Chatham Township Police Chief Thomas Miller could answer any questions from the board, residents weighed in with their opinions during the pubic porting of the regular BOE meeting held Monday night at the high school.
Borough resident Robert Penn, who identified himself as a disciplinarian at a Middle School in another town, said he has been researching the subject over the last five years, using FBI and Secret Service statistics, and urged the board to bring in armed Class III officers.
While Penn laid out his case to the board in favor of the officers, residents Rozella Clyde and Bill Heap voiced their objections to armed officers in the schools.
Penn, who also served as fire department captain for 25 years, is a Sandy Hook Promise leader. He strongly urged the hiring of armed officers
Penn warns board members that if a situation happened "You would have to live with that you could have done something and you didn't."
Penn insisted that police officers will do everything humanly possible before they use a weapon. "It's not engaging in a wild-west shootout. It's using your knowledge and experience to avoid that."
Clyde spoke after Penn and talked about her experience as an educator in New York City. She said guns in the schools is intimidating and "Fear does terrible things to people."
Clyde also advocated what Chatham was doing to address the issue of bullying and referenced the Feb. 14, 2018, shootings at Marjorie Stoneman Douglas High in Parkland, Fla., where 17 students and teachers were killed by a former student.
"Parkland had two armed police officers and they were outside the building," Clyde said. "Just because a person has training doesn't mean they're going to necessarily be in the right spot at the necessary time. They weren't able to prevent anything.
"Arming a school with a whole slew of police officers is going to be intimidating to young children. That's why you need to include the youth in your discussions. Find out how they feel about it before you bring guns into the school."
Heap explained that he had been taken an unscientific poll by asking as many Chatham residents and students about what they thought of armed officers in the schools. The conclusion of his anecdotal poll was that the answer was "no."