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Gun range near school is opposed

Published Oct. 18, 2005

The School Board took firm stands Tuesday against a shooting range and a sewer plant proposed near schools, and it established a new policy allowing school officials to test suspect employees for drugs. Parents, neighbors and students had been calling Superintendent Carl Austin with safety concerns related to the two separate projects. A skeet-shooting and pistol range proposed for next to Hernando Elementary School prompted many of those calls.

Board member Karen Johnson said she went to the school after hearing the concerns. She and others stood inside and outside the school on Croft Avenue while someone fired a rifle from the site of the proposed range.

From the playground, the shots were "very loud and very evident," Johnson said. From inside, the gunfire could not be heard with the windows closed.

Neighbor Mark Milat said he opposed the project. "We don't need something like this that could possibly harm them psychologically or physically," he said.

Debbie Donovan, president of the school's PTA, said her group opposes the range. "We feel our children will be in severe jeopardy," she told the board.

Board member David Langer said the proposed shooting area was 1,500 to 2,000 feet from the school property.

"The kids can get used to that banging, but what bothers me about the pistol range is that kids can't get used to bullets flying," Langer said.

"Who in their right mind wants to put up a gun club next to an elementary school," board member Phil Zellner added.

School Board attorney Richard "Spike" Fitzpatrick said the board would need to find experts who would raise a question about the safety of children at the school if the range was approved.

The board agreed unanimously and ordered Fitzpatrick to gather the necessary experts for a presentation at the county's Planning Commission meeting Nov. 1.

The school board also unanimously agreed to send a letter to the County Commission opposing its plans to place a regional sewer plant next to the Lecanto school complex on County Road 491.

Austin recommended the board oppose the use of the parcel for a sewer plant, and Fitzpatrick recommended the board send a representative to the commission to explain the opposition "with facts and not just emotion."

School officials said they felt the County Commission, especially with its membership about to change, seemed unsure on committing to the Lecanto sewer site. But the board agreed to send the letter as a way of assuring parents the board was interested in fighting the project.

In other action, the board also approved a new set of personnel procedures, including a controversial item allowing the school system to require drug tests of any employee they think may be using drugs or alcohol.

The testing provision was a compromise of a plan proposed nearly a year ago by board member Langer. He had wanted pre-employment drug tests of all potential school employees. But the plan approved Tuesday will affect only existing school employees.

If a school official has "reasonable suspicion" that someone is using drugs, if an employee is found with drugs or drug paraphernalia, if an employee is involved in an unusual incident or if an employee is involved in drug rehabilitation, a test can be ordered.

If the employee refuses the test or the test is positive, that employee faces some form of discipline, according to the policy.