Five candidates for Teton County School District No. 1’s board of trustees differed on some questions asked Monday at the League of Women Voters forum, but they agreed that arming teachers is a bad idea.
Two school boards in Wyoming voted to arm teachers last year as a school safety tool.
“With two kiddos in our schools, our school security is at the front and center of my mind,” Holly Balogh said. “Especially when you hear news of some tragic shooting event that has occurred in some other location. I feel very lucky that we live where we live. That being said, I would never compromise and will never support having a teacher with a gun in a school. It’s something I completely disagree with.”
Nancy Porthan said that while she thinks “safety should be number one,” she agreed that arming teachers was not the answer and supports staff training in other methods instead.
“I do not think that arming educational professionals is the solution to having a safe building in which our kids are being educated,” she said. “It just doesn’t make sense.”
Keith Gingery’s take on the issue brought laughter.
“As most of you know, my wife teaches kindergarten,” he said. “She always jokes, ‘I can’t believe you guys would think I should carry a gun. I can’t keep track of my own purse.’”
Gingery said the school district was already making improvements to keep kids safe, like implementing suggestions from Gov. Matt Mead’s school safety committee. That includes tightening visitor access by installing entrance vestibules at schools like Colter Elementary.
Incumbent Janine Teske said she supported a two-pronged approach, focusing on being proactive and factoring in mental health in addition to training teachers on how to respond to intruders. Her role on the board of the Wyoming School Board Association, she said, has exposed the problems with implementing armed teacher policies in other places.
“I’ve got to tell you, this is not one of those things that I ever would want to lead,” she said. “This is something that somebody else better work out the bugs before it comes to Teton County because it’s a hot mess.”
Retired teacher and Wyoming hunter safety instructor Alan Brumsted said that while the number of school safety incidents is relatively low, students have too many hours of direct contact with teachers for guns in class to make sense.
“To me, that’s just looking for an accident,” he said. “There’s way more time there that something could go wrong than go right.”
Audience members at the forum, hosted at Teton County Library, asked other tough questions. For the most part, candidates agreed on issues from supporting more vocational education to working with the town of Jackson and Teton County when building a new school.
Candidates mostly agreed that while the dual immersion program has been successful, improvements could and should be made as it grows. Balogh said she’d like to see more language opportunities for those students in traditional classrooms — a rallying cry of current board member Joe Larrow, who decided not to run for re-election.
The panelists were also asked how they’d improve the district’s relationship with the Latino community and had a variety of suggestions, including asking more representatives to be part of leadership opportunities, encouraging more diverse meeting attendance and addressing segregation in schools directly with students. They all agreed that fear of law enforcement and cultural differences were barriers they needed to overcome.
An audience member asked the candidates for specifics about what comprehensive sex-ed should entail. Teske and Gingery said school board members don’t get involved in curriculum and they’d leave it to the experts, while Porthan said she’d want to involve the appropriate level of public opinion and others answered more specifically.
Brumsted, a former science teacher, said the curriculum could be adapted to be age-appropriate and begin in elementary school.
“You start with things like reproduction of flowers and things like that,” he said. “You don’t have to jump right in to human sexuality to be sex-ed. There’s sex taking place — sorry to say this — everywhere, and it’s not just humans.”
Balogh said she doesn’t believe abstinence-only education works.
“I don’t think that’s an appropriate method,” she said. “I think our kids need to be educated about birth control, especially in the older levels. I think we need to teach them science-based education starting when they’re younger so they know what’s going on with their bodies from when they’re young all the way up to when they’re in high school and they could potentially be sexually active.
If you missed the forum, it can be listened to in its entirety on KHOL 89.1’s Facebook page. Other topics discussed included how they would address crowding at the secondary level, what the board’s role was in mitigating the achievement gap and difficulties they predicted when implementing computer science curriculum.
Voters can choose three of the five candidates on or before Nov. 6.