Marksmanship class approved in 5-3 BOE vote
NASHUA – Amid the ongoing national debate regarding gun rights, Nashua Board of Education members on Monday voted 5-3 to allow a Junior Reserve Officers’ Training Corps (JROTC) course on marksmanship that will involve air rifles.
In March, Maj. Brian Newton, Master Sgt. Nick Ellis and Cadet Cpl. Adam Landry presented a proposal to the board for approval of an Air Rifle Marksmanship Course to promote training, good sportsmanship, and a high standard performance.
This course will allow JROTC cadets, once trained, to practice their skills with an air rifle. Cadets will also be learning discipline, responsibility and other life skills.
Organizers plan to use the field behind Nashua High School North, away from the teachers’ parking lot, to practice. When firing is in process, a red flag will be displayed.
After a lengthy discussion during the March 11 board meeting, the matter was tabled, as some board members wanted to look deeper into legal aspects.
Monday, Newton, Ellis, Landry and fellow cadets were back in attendance.
Board member Susan Porter expressed her full support for the instructors and students, adding she respected the qualifications of teachers and integrity of the students who would be taking the course.
“It is premature to vote on the marksmanship program before options for alternatives for other
locations have been fully explored,” Porter said, however. “If the vote is taken tonight, my no vote is not no to marksmanship, but no to marksmanship on school grounds.”
Porter added, “We bus students to other locations for other sports. Why can’t we do it for marksmanship?”
Nashua Technology Center North Director Amanda Bastoni addressed the Porter’s concerns.
“I think what these two gentlemen are doing with JROTC is fabulous … they teach amazing leadership skills in their classes.”
Bastoni said she spoke with school Director of Transportation Dave Rauseo, who she said told her there would be no increase in the transportation budget if students were transported to Horse Pond Fish and Game Club, which is about a mile down the road from the school.
Bastoni suggested a compromise, which would call for having the course off campus. After seeing how many students are interested, they could develop a program and then ask the board to reevaluate the matter in one year’s time.
Newton also addressed the board, and brought a drill rifle with him. He spoke of what makes a weapon deadly or dangerous. Newton said what constitutes a deadly weapon is intent.
“This can be used as a deadly weapon if you turn it over and try to club somebody with it,” Newton said. “A knife from the cafeteria, a screwdriver, a hammer all constitute deadly weapons if you have intent, so it’s not the item itself, it’s the intent.”
He asked of the board, “Please take emotion out of the equation and make a decision based on logic and reason.”
Board member Howard Coffman said he supports the original proposal wholeheartedly and suggested that it could help bring up enrollment numbers.
“We, as the district, are committed to helping students become responsible productive members of society – in other words, college and career ready. This program prepares students for a career of service,” Board member Doris Hohensee said on the matter.
Board member Ray Guarino said he was willing to amend the motion to approve the marksmanship course if it were to take place at Horse Pond Fish and Game Club.
“Elm Street Middle School has to go off campus for almost all their sports and it doesn’t stop kids from participating,” Guarino said.
Board member Dotty Oden also expressed approval for a compromise. Board member Elizabeth Van Twuyver said she doesn’t believe there will be a problem on campus at all.
“I trust these men with my life,” Van Twuyver said.
Board Chair Heather Raymond said, “We’re talking about some of our most responsible students in the district. These are kids who are voluntarily signing up for a very strict code of conduct and I think that we need to be respectful of that and really acknowledge that.”
The board then voted on the motion to approve the club as previously presented on the Nashua North campus. The motion carried 5-3.
In other business, the board discussed the weight of career and technical education (CTE) courses as compared to Advanced Placement courses. Hohensee suggested having the Curriculum and Evaluation Committee review. The board agreed.
Also during the meeting, Vice President of Nashua Teachers Union and Amherst Street Elementary School Title 1 teacher Deb Howes brought a concern to the board.
“We have 22 part-time Title 1 teachers in the Nashua School District and just before April vacation, nine of my colleagues got their layoff notices. The Title 1 grant has not been funded yet by the state for next year,” Howes said.
She added, “We had to lay off people because we don’t know if we’ll be able to pay them. That is 180-220 students who potentially next year will not have a skilled teacher to give them a reading or math lesson every day, in addition to their classroom teacher.”
Howes spoke of the importance of these teachers who provide specialized instruction every day in reading and math to help the students.
“My heart is breaking for our students and also for my colleagues,” Howes said. “I hope the grant gets straightened out. I hope you’re able to bring all of my colleagues back and I hope you remember how important we are to the success of our struggling students who are facing so many challenges outside of school. You need us there to help them there to do their best when their in school.”