Warning sign at Okay

Okay students trickle out of classrooms to go home as their parents drive by one of four signs placed at Okay Public Schools that warn that staff members “can be legally armed” to protect students. 

OKAY — New signs posted on the grounds of Okay Public Schools announce an "Armed School Employees" policy in place.

The Okay Public Schools Board of Education passed an “Armed School Employees” policy in August. On Monday, the district publicized that policy with signage in front of the school.

“The signs are more or less a deterrent,” Superintendent Charles McMahan said. “We don't want to be a soft target.”

McMahan said his administration looks for ways to keep students safe and secure, particularly since the Okay Police Department was disbanded in December 2014. Although Wagoner County sheriff's deputies are available, McMahan said it is “seconds, not minutes, that matter.”

Student Richard Antosh and several of his peers supported the policy, trusting their teachers should a threat arise. Many of the students only learned of the policy when the administration placed the signs.

Antosh said his concern, though, was “if a kid tried to get the gun (from an employee) and hurt someone.”

The school's policy, spearheaded by High School Principal Mark Hayes, is designed to fill the security where it was vacated by local law enforcement.

“There have been numerous shootings in the country, and we want to keep our students safe,” Hayes said. “These are our kids.”

Fort Gibson was the site of a school shooting in 1999. Fort Gibson honor-roll student Seth Trickey emptied the clip of a 9 mm pistol he brought to the middle school, wounding five of his classmates, said Richard Slader, who was the chief of the Fort Gibson Police Department at the time.

According to Everytown for Gun Safety Support Fund, a gun violence research group, there were about 65 school shootings — some with injuries, some without, some intentional, some unintentional — in 2015.

“(A policy) probably would not have affected it then,” Slader said. “Everything took place right outside.”

Trickey had been dropped off for school in the morning. He pulled the pistol and fired until it was empty, Slader said.

Fort Gibson Public Schools Superintendent Derald Glover said the topic of a similar policy to Okay's has come up in conversation. But it has not been a topic for the school board, and he does not foresee it.

Glover, who was not the superintendent at the time, said it would be impossible to speculate the impact that an armed-employee policy could have had on the 1999 shooting.

“We would not do it at this time until we know that there is adequate training for someone to be carrying (a firearm) around students. But we respect those that do,” Glover said.

Officials at Muskogee, Keys, Porum and Hilldale public schools said local police serve the role of security at their institutions. Generally, officials said it was not necessary at their schools.

“To make it short and sweet, we just don't think it's safe,” Porum Public Schools Superintendent Curtis Curry said.

One Okay employee is approved to carry. For other employees to arm themselves, they must qualify with a Council on Law Enforcement Education Training certification or license; possess an Oklahoma Self Defense Act License; and be CLEET qualified with the firearm, according to the policy.

After an employee has completed the qualifications, they may submit themselves to the OPS Board of Education for approval before carrying, McMahan said. Okay is the only school in the Green Country area with an armed-employee policy, he said.

“Our standards are higher,” McMahan said. “We really wanted people to know this is serious to us; we don't take this issue lightly.”

Reach Harrison Grimwood at (918) 684-2926 or harrison.grimwood@muskogeephoenix.com.

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