News A Virginia School Board Approves Hunter Education and Firearms Safety Programs Ken Perrotte March 5, 2020 Join the Conversation Photo: Meghan Marchetti Virginia is widely viewed as a battleground state when it comes to politics and recent political fighting has resembled everything from tactical skirmishes to all-out war. Culpeper County was among the early adopters of resolutions declaring the county a Second Amendment Sanctuary after an exceedingly ambitious gun control agenda was announced by the leadership of Virginia’s General Assembly. County Sheriff Scott Jenkins has repeatedly gone on record stating he would deputize law-abiding citizens of the county if that's what it took for them to avoid having their legally possessed firearms banned or confiscated. Now, Culpeper County is poised to bring both hunter education and firearm safety back into its school system. Culpeper county’s seven-member school board voted unanimously on Feb. 24 to offer a free hunter education program to the county’s middle school students, sometimes called junior high school in other parts of the United States. School board member Marshall D. Keene championed the idea. Keene, a detective with the Culpeper Sheriff’s Department, was formerly a school resource officer at the high school. “I requested this as an action item for our board. With all the hysteria about changing or adding gun control laws in Virginia, I thought this should be more about education rather than restriction,” Keene said. The Code of Virginia already allows schools to teach hunter education, Keene added. “We (the board) directed staff to have that program in place for the 2020-2021 school year, next year,” Keene said. School system administrative staff will present a proposal for implementation, but Keene expects it may be an after-school program. It also is possible that hunter education instructors might be able to bring approved firearms onto school property, albeit not for any live-fire training. HUNTER EDUCATION Hunter education programs are managed by the Virginia Department of Game and Inland Fisheries, led by a small cadre of professional staff and an army of dedicated, trained and certified volunteers. David Dodson, the VDGIF lead for hunter education, said the department is “thrilled” at the notion of bringing hunter education to the Culpeper County middle school, noting that Fluvanna County is beginning a similar program this month at its high school. That course will be open to the public as well as students. The VDGIF will handle course registrations Hunter education courses offered in Virginia schools used to be routine. Keene said that is how he earned his certificate as a youngster. Since 2016, Virginia has offered an online hunter-education course for residents 12 and older. Keene, though, is a strong believer in having actual instructors interact with the youngsters. “Nothing is better than a hands-on approach. It’s similar to driver’s education. You need to be able to put your hands on the equipment,” Keene said. EDDIE EAGLE As enthusiastic Keene is about returning hunter education to the public school setting, he sounds doubly pumped about a topic that will be presented and possibly voted on at the March 9 school board meeting. He has an action item on the agenda calling for the addition of the National Rifle Association’s Eddie Eagle program to the county’s elementary schools. Founded in 1988, the Eddie Eagle program's stated sole purpose, according to the NRA, is to “give children crucial information about what to do if they ever come across a gun.” The program is designed for pre-kindergarteners through fourth grade. The NRA provided statistics showing that, over the past ten years, the Eddie Eagle program was taught by nearly 450 Virginia law enforcement agencies and more than 125 Virginia schools. Since the program’s inception, some 2.37 million Virginia children and more than 31 million kids in the United States, Puerto Rico and Canada children have gotten the Eddie Eagle message. Eleven Virginia law enforcement agencies also use the Eddie Eagle mascot costume to teach the program. Among them are the Greene County Sheriff's Office, Albemarle County Sheriff's Office, Lynchburg County Sheriff's Office, Office of Commonwealth Attorney, York County Sheriff's Office, and Richmond Public Schools Police. 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