The only rifle range in the Arlington school system, which had been targeted for closure, won't be shut down for at least another month, the Arlington School Board decided last night.
In a 3 to 2 vote, the School Board rejected the recommendation offered by Superintendent Robert G. Smith to immediately close the range, convert it to storage space and turn what is now used for storage into two classrooms. Board Chair Darlene M. Mickey and Vice Chair Libby Garvey voted in favor of closing the range.
Smith's recommendation came in response to parents' concerns after the shootings at a Littleton, Colo., high school in April. Some parents objected to the Yorktown High School rifle range, questioning whether students should be allowed to fire guns in school.
Garvey said she favored closing the range as soon as possible, but added, "This is not about ending the program, it's about moving it." Mickey said her objection was not about safety, but about space.
In a follow-up action, the board voted unanimously for a recommendation made by board members Elaine S. Furlow and Mary H. Hynes to ask school officials to investigate alternative sites for the range.
Furlow and Hynes said they wanted to know whether such sites exist, and the cost of using alternative ranges. The board agreed to address the issue again July 14. In another motion, members approved the creation of two new classrooms.
"I understand and respect all of the concerns about young people having guns at school," Hynes said. "We need to continue to support the team. It's important for kids to be on it. It's important for kids to get a [varsity sports] letter." The Yorktown range is one of three in the Potomac High School Rifle League. The others are at Landon School in Bethesda and St. John's College Academy in Northwest Washington.
Yorktown's range opened in 1967 to accommodate the school's rifle team, which was established in 1962 and practiced at a now-defunct range at Fort Myer. About 55 teenagers use the range, including the team at Arlington's Washington-Lee High School and the teenage rifle club sponsored by the Optimists Club.
Students who use the Yorktown range, which is open only after school hours, either bring their own -- unloaded -- weapons to school in gun cases or use the school's 22 long-rifle caliber single-shot target rifles. These guns, which are stored in a locked cabinet when not in use, are designed for target shooting and must be reloaded after every shot, rifle coaches said.
At the meeting Thursday, students who use the range and their parents defended the activity as a safe endeavor for students who don't want to go out for "muscle-bound" sports. "I'm a mediocre athlete," said Keith Dowling, 15, captain of the Yorktown rifle team. "I play bad baseball, bad football and really bad basketball. But rifle is just one of those things I manage to do really well in."
A team member's mother said she wouldn't have supported the range, if not for the improvement she saw in her son's discipline.
"I am here to support the politically incorrect idea of keeping the rifle range," Claudia Higgins said. "My son wouldn't go try out for one of the muscle-bound sports, but he had the nerve to do this."
The board did not hear from speakers who opposed the range.