Rivendell Looks to Adopt Firearm Policy Amid N.H. Confusion

  • Rep. David Binford, R-Orford, left, stands outside the gym at Rivendell Academy as Wakame LittleJohn, middle, and Abdishakur Gure, right, members of the Winooski basketball team, walk to the locker room following their playoff win in Orford, N.H. Wednesday, March 1, 2017. Binford, a girls softball coach at the school and an Army veteran, said the school asked him to provide security for the game. (Valley News - James M. Patterson) Copyright Valley News. May not be reprinted or used online without permission. Send requests to permission@vnews.com.

Valley News Staff Writer
Saturday, May 20, 2017

Orford — The Rivendell School Board may soon vote on a policy that would mandate only uniformed police officers provide security at after-school events, a measure developed after a state representative who was asked to help out at a Rivendell Academy basketball game in March arrived wearing a sidearm.

Meanwhile, Superintendent Mike Harris said School Board members are mulling other in-house policies in an attempt to see just how far they can go to limit firearms on campus. And Rivendell’s dean of students also has asked lawmakers in Concord for help, with mixed results.

While generally it’s against federal law to have a gun in school, New Hampshire doesn’t have a comparable law on the books, meaning local law enforcement officers are relatively powerless to stop someone from bringing one in, New Hampshire Attorney General Ann Rice previously told the Valley News. Students are not allowed to bring guns in schools.

“What do I think about random adults being able to come onto our campus carrying a firearm?” School Board member David Ricker, of Orford, said this week. “I don’t think it’s a good idea ... and I think the board in general feels that it is not a good idea.”

School Board member Bruce Lyndes, of Fairlee, agreed.

“I think the potential for a negative consequence is far greater when guns are allowed in school,” Lyndes said.

State Rep. David Binford’s decision to carry a firearm while providing security at the Rivendell game on March 1 got the School Board thinking about the topic of guns in schools, Lyndes said.

Following the incident involving Binford — an Orford Republican who has children at the school and also coaches softball at Rivendell — the School Board asked Harris to draft the policy, which states only uniformed police officers will provide security at after-school events.

While discussing that change, board members raised other questions about firearms, including whether a school district in New Hampshire could implement a hiring condition that states school staff can’t carry guns at work and whether a teacher could refuse to meet with a parent who is carrying a firearm.

Rivendell’s attorney currently is researching those questions and others, Harris said.

The board could vote on the security policy as soon as its June 6 meeting, Ricker said, but Harris noted there is a chance the board will put it on hold while it awaits answers to its other questions.

“With school ending, we are not immediately in a hurry to get one policy without the other,” Harris said.

Meanwhile, Rivendell Dean of Students Michael Galli has taken his concerns about guns in schools to Concord, advocating for a state law that would make all New Hampshire school zones gun free.

A federal law — the Gun-Free School Zones Act — makes it illegal to possess a firearm in a school or within 1,000 feet of one, though some exceptions apply.

Practically, however, local law enforcement can’t enforce the federal law, Rice said previously, and New Hampshire doesn’t have a comparable law in place. Vermont, meanwhile, does, and it states it’s a crime for a citizen to possess a firearm or other deadly weapon while in a school building, on a school bus or on school property.

In late March, Galli met with state Sen. Jeb Bradley — the Wolfeboro Republican and Senate majority leader who sponsored legislation that did away with the need for a concealed-carry permit this year — to try and get a school-related bill started.

According to Galli, Bradley appeared unaware of the state “loophole” related to guns in schools and told him he would do some research and get back in touch in two weeks. He never did, Galli said.

“I expected the senator to call me back with advice,” Galli said. “I expected more from him.”

In a statement through a legislative aide, Bradley said, “Our No. 1 priority as a state is to ensure the safety and well-being of our children, particularly at school. Fortunately, New Hampshire communities have always maintained relatively powerful local government control over issues and have the ability to directly affect the citizens and institutions within a city or town.”

Bradley also said he believed school boards could prevent guns in the schools they govern.

“School boards, in fact, have the ability to prohibit firearms in school zones and do not require a state law in order to adopt such a provision in a particular community,” Bradley asserted.

On how that would be enforced, Bradley said, “in the same way that any other policy they would adopt might be enforced. That could mean school security or local authorities could be responsible for enforcement of a school adopted policy. Again, it would be up to the community to make that determination.”

Lyndes, the Rivendell School Board member, said that was news to him.

“That would be a preferred solution, but I have never heard that before,” Lyndes said.

Reached on Friday, Rice, the assistant attorney general, said she couldn’t comment on that, but added, “I am not sure it is a clear answer under the law.”

Because Galli’s effort stalled with Republicans, he said, he reached out to a Democrat.

State Sen. Martha Hennessey, D-Hanover, has agreed to sponsor a bill, and is researching what other states have done, among other details pertaining to the proposed legislation.

“I am really glad he called me,” said Hennessey, who also said she was surprised about the lack of a state law regarding guns in schools. “I couldn’t believe it.”

She acknowledged the bill will have a “tough road” ahead, given that Republicans control both the New Hampshire Senate and House and the Governor’s Office.

“It makes me think that maybe because it involves children in schools that things will be different,” Hennessey said. “I am forever optimistic, perhaps naively so.”

No new bills are being accepted until the fall, she said.

Believing the bill will face opposition, Galli also is taking action at the town level.

He is drafting a letter to the Orford Selectboard asking board members to adopt an ordinance that designates Rivendell Academy a firearm-free zone. (The other schools in the interstate district are in Vermont). He thinks the ordinance may give local law enforcement authority to enforce it.

“It’s just another avenue to get this done,” Galli said. “My main goal is to see a statewide law … but that’s a slow process.”

Jordan Cuddemi can be reached at jcuddemi@vnews.com or 603-727-3248.