NASHUA — After hearing from residents debating whether a marksmanship program should take place on school grounds, the Board of Education voted late Monday to temporarily suspend the air-rifle training.
Following a nonpublic session, the board voted 7-2 to temporarily suspend the marksmanship program on school grounds and to discuss with officials at the nearby Horse Pond Fish and Game Club range about the possibility of conducting the course there.
Parents and students at Monday’s standing room-only board meeting expressed both support and opposition to a Nashua Air Force Junior Reserve Officers’ Training Corps marksmanship class, which was to be conducted on a field behind Nashua High School North. Public comment lasted two hours.
The class initially was approved by school officials.
Some students expressed fear while others voiced the need for trained air-rifle use. Several suggested the Horse Pond range be used instead of the school field.
“We are not here to divide a community,” said Maj. Brian Newton, who helps lead Nashua’s JROTC program. The purpose of the initiative is to provide the best educational environment for cadets, according to Newton, who said the marksmanship program instills competition and teamwork while providing opportunities for college scholarships and the Junior Olympics.
Some students said the presence of guns on school property — even though they are air rifles and not considered firearms — sends a mixed message and can be uncomfortable for teens in an era of frequent school shootings.
Boys are not allowed to wear bandanas and girls cannot wear ripped clothes to school because it can be distracting, Nashua North senior Patrick Gillis said. Air rifles on school grounds would be more distracting than certain prohibited clothing, he told the board.
“The range will be set up with a multitude of safety components,” said Adam Landry, a JROTC cadet. He explained that if the range is moved off site, there will be additional costs for transportation, storage and use of the range, among other concerns. “The program has no correlation to school shootings,” Landry said.
Pamela Jordan, a parent, disagreed, noting that Parkland, Fla., school shooter Nikolas Cruz was a former member of JROTC before being expelled from Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School, and was wearing a JROTC shirt when he shot and killed 17 people at the school in 2018.
“They are real fears,” Jordan said.
Amanda Bastoni, director of the Nashua Technology Center at the school, recommended the marksmanship program be held indoors at the Horse Pond range, where the cadets could practice inside since they ultimately would be competing indoors.
“There is not an easy answer,” she said, adding about 60 students expressed their concerns to her about the course.
Bob Duffy, a parent, said the range would be only 30 feet long and could be set up in a school gym, adding that air-rifle pellets are the same diameter as BB pellets.
“It is an Olympic event,” he said. “... I believe that it should be held in the school here.”