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February 7, 2013

Editorial: Let school guard issue be heard

Does seeking a hearing to raise a legitimate public safety issue need to be this complicated?

The answer of course is “no.” Yet Gloucester city and school officials seem to insist on pulling out all sorts of stops to keep Amanda Kesterson, a local mother of three, from getting a full airing for her petition drive that calls for placing armed security guards in Gloucester’s schools.

Kesterson acknowledged that her online petition drive includes well over 200 signatures, yet virtually all are electronic. Town Clerk Linda Lowe says that’s not good enough to force the City Council hearing that Kesterson and the petitioners want. That’s because, while the city’s charter makes no distinction between hand-scrawled and online signatures, City Solicitor Suzanne Egan says the city should abide by the Secretary of State’s mandate for handwritten signings.

Yet those state guidelines don’t appear aimed at city council or selectmen’s hearings; they’re geared toward ballot referendum requirements. And if, by that precedent, Kesterson’s signatures aren’t worthy, city and school officials’ online “surveys” — purportedly showing support for a new West Parish School, and weighing potential uses for the Fuller School building — aren’t worth the screens they’re written on, either.

As we noted previously, the cost alone should render any plan to place armed guards in every school prohibitive, and there are concerns about putting any guns in schools — in anyone’s hands. But there are certainly benefits to boosting the police presence and interaction with school students on perhaps a rotating basis, and Kesterson and her signers should at least be able to talk about it.

The council should schedule a hearing, pronto.

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