TAKING AIM — Staley Elementary School fifth-grader Gina Recchio prepares to shoot an arrow at a target recently. She has qualified for the 2018 NASP (National Archery in Schools Program) National Tournament in Louisville, Ky. in May. A proposal from a Manhattan lawmaker would ban marksmanship programs, including archery, in schools. The proposal has come under fire from area teachers and officials. (Photo courtesy of Rome City School District)

Bid to ban marksmanship programs off target, officials say

Published May 3, 2018 at 4:10pm

A state Assembly bill proposed by a downstate legislator would prohibit public schools from offering marksmanship or shooting programs, including archery.

The legislation’s sponsor is Assemblymember Linda Rosenthal, D-67, Manhattan, who says it is in response to recent gun violence in schools.

Opposition to the legislation was expressed Wednesday by Assemblyman Anthony Brindisi, D-119, Utica, a member of the Assembly Education Committee where the proposed bill has been referred. It does not have a co-sponsor at this point, nor is there companion legislation in the Senate.

“While violence in schools is something that simply must be addressed, I do not believe that banning supervised shooting and archery teams in public schools is the proper way to do it, so I am opposed to this legislation,” Brindisi said.

He added that “given the proper supervision, I believe students can learn a great deal participating in these sports, just as they would with other extra-curricular activities. Banning school archery and shooting teams is certainly not likely to cut down on school violence, and it means there will be fewer opportunities for students to learn about sportsmanship, and working together with others.”

In the Rome school district, students are introduced to the National Archery in Our Schools Program (NASP) in fifth grade physical education and continue through 12th grade, said Diane Penella, a Staley Elementary School phys ed teacher and NASP trained instructor; NASP in New York is sponsored by the state Department of Environmental Conservation. Since 2015, she noted, five Staley students have qualified for and competed in the NASP National Tournament. In addition to the phys ed instruction, Staley until this year has had an archery club, she said. Staley hosted all of the Rome district’s fifth- and sixth-grade students from the 2005-06 through 2016-17 school years before being redistricted as a K-6 school for the current 2017-18 year.

Regarding the proposed Assembly legislation, Penella said she was “very surprised” about the inclusion of archery and added it was “something that I never thought would get linked” to the other issues. She said NASP is “safe and fun” for students to learn in school, commenting that “archery is safe, because we make it safe.” She detailed the procedures including the preparation of students, maintenance of bows and arrows, and the archery range specifications. Students are “taught the complete safety protocol and ‘11 steps to success’ technique,” she observed. Also, “as students learn the skills/knowledge/safety associated with archery, they are encouraged to extend their training” through local and community resources, she remarked.

At Rome Free Academy, the junior ROTC program does not have a firearms-related marksmanship course or activity at this time, said Master Sgt. Della Pray, an instructor who is completing her 14th full year with RFA JROTC. The overall JROTC on a national level does have a marksmanship program, she noted.

Pray said she would support more programs that promote proper usage, training, respect and responsibility regarding the sport of marksmanship.

Rosenthal, in a memo submitted with her proposed legislation, said “marksmanship programs in public schools were once popular, but a rise in gun violence and school shootings in recent years has spurred a long-overdue reevaluation of their place in our students’ curriculum.”

She observed that in 1990 Congress passed the Gun Free School Zones Act but left exemptions for police officers and school security, plus for students possessing firearms as part of an approved school program.

Rosenthal said her bill “would increase student safety by prohibiting public schools from offering marksmanship programs or other programs that allow students to possess and discharge firearms on school property.”

The proposed legislation defines marksmanship and/or shooting programs as “any competitive and recreational sporting activities involving proficiency tests of accuracy, precision and speed in using various types of ranged weapons, such as firearms and air guns, in forms such as handguns, rifles and shotguns and/or bows or crossbows.”

Among online reports about the legislation, Buffalo television station WGRZ noted the New York State Public High School Athletic Association says 266 varsity athletes competed in rifling last year.

It also observed that the DEC says 34,000 students across the state participated in school archery programs last year.