The Stroudsburg School Board voted against accepting the National Rifle Association’s $4,730 grant for new rifles to replace the high school rifle team’s old ones.
STROUDSBURG, Pa. — The Stroudsburg School Board voted 6-2 Monday against accepting the National Rifle Association’s $4,730 grant for new rifles to replace the high school rifle team’s old ones.
Board members Cem Zeytinoglou, James Burke, Merlyn Clarke, Judith Magann, Tameko Patterson and Alexander Reincke voted against the NRA grant. Board members John Jakobsen and Michael Mignosi voted for the grant.
Board member Robert Yarnall was absent.
Attending Monday’s board meeting were rifle team members supporting the NRA’s grant and others opposing the grant.
“I’ve been hunting since age 13 with my dad, who taught me the seriousness of weapons and guns,” rifle team member Isabelle Strauch said. “I learned safety is always important.”
Strauch mentioned the February shooting that killed 13 children and four adults at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School in Parkland, Fla.
“That shooting opened my eyes,” she said. “I agree with and want more gun control. However, semi-automatic rifles (like the one used by accused shooter Nikolas Cruz in the Parkland massacre) kill people. Our competition rifles don’t kill people. Still, all weapons should be treated with respect.
“Rifle practice helps me calm down and de-stress,” Strauch said, adding that sports like basketball, softball and track have never appealed to her. “It’s a mental sport, like chess. We need new rifles to be more competitive. The ones we have are from the ’60s and ’70s.”
Kate Ballard, a mother of a 13-year-old and 9-year-old, said she is “revolted” by the NRA’s refusal to entertain any form of gun control legislation and its promotion of divisiveness.
“I look our students in the eye and see the diversity here,” Ballard said. “I simply cannot condone funds from the NRA. We can do better in finding funding sources.”
Rifle team member Emily Dougherty requested the school board support the team by accepting the NRA grant.
“This will ensure our team members can do more effectively what they love doing,” Dougherty said. “Students who are interested in serving in our nation’s military need good marksmanship skills in a safely controlled environment, which our rifle team provides. Other sports don’t provide an equal opportunity for both genders, but our rifle team does so for everyone.”
Carlena Bach, of Stroudsburg, said she grew up in a Pennsylvania hunting family when pickup trucks with rifles in their gun racks were a common sight in school parking lots.
“I support our rifle team and believe in hunting and target practice, but I’m suspicious of the NRA,” Bach said. “What strings are attached to this offered funding? If we accept this grant, we’re really supporting gun manufacturers. What’s next? Arming our own teachers and school officers? Be very careful.”
Having co-sponsored gun safety legislation for local schools, State Rep. Maureen Madden said she likewise supports the rifle team but suggested finding funding sources other than the NRA.
“What happened to raising money through bake sales?,” Madden asked. “We never took money from a lobbyist. Please consider that 93 percent of gun owners are neither NRA members nor supporters of the NRA’s policies. We have students organizing around this nation, crying out for their lives. Teachers don’t want to be armed or have metal detectors in their schools. They want sensible legislation. If we accept funding from a lobbyist, what will it lead to?”
U.S. Army Reservist Reincke said he grew up using rifles, but he opposes the NRA grant.
“I didn’t know until tonight that our rifle team’s equipment was in such poor shape,” he said. “I want our board to remedy this but not with funding from the NRA. It’s dirty money.”
Jakobsen asked, “What makes it dirty money?”
Reincke said the NRA has grown from a group of hunters into a “hateful, divisive political group selling nothing but pushing guns on everyone.”
“So, are you gonna pony up the money for these new rifles?” Mignosi asked.
Clarke voiced concern about the NRA opposing legislation that would ban guns to people on terrorist watch lists or enact universal background checks for all gun-license applicants.
“I’m not sure why we need to promote a gun culture that has nothing to do with our rifle club,” Clarke said.
Mignosi said a rifle team with outdated rifles is like a football team with outdated uniforms.
“So we’re telling our rifle team they can’t have funding because we don’t like the politics of the donor of that funding?” he asked. “The NRA has been sponsoring high school and college rifle competitions for years. They’re offering funding for equipment that would improve our rifle team’s shooting ability. I’m in awe that we’re politicizing this instead of accepting beneficial funding being offered with no strings attached.”
Patterson said the NRA grant “isn’t just dirty money but blood money.”
“The former Douglas High School student accused of shooting those victims was once a member of that school’s rifle team, which is supported by the NRA,” she said.
Rifle team members’ parents in the audience said this is false, since no one knows of any reports of the NRA supporting that school’s team.
Regardless, “there are many other ways to generate funding,” Patterson said. “My son is in six different school clubs. I’ve supported T-shirt sales, candy sales and other fundraisers for those clubs. We’ve never received grants from anyone.”
Parents opposing the NRA grant applauded when the board’s majority voted against the grant.
Others in the audience shook their heads. One woman asked out loud who will write the check for the new rifles.
“Perhaps the board should develop a list of donors from whom funding won’t be accepted so as to not waste time putting any of those donors on the agenda for a vote in the future,” former board member Cindy Blake suggested.
Andrew Scott is a reporter for the Stroudsburg (Pa.) Pocono Record.