School Safety

School Resource Officer Andrew Roundy of the Teton County Sheriff’s Office lets seniors back into school during the lunch hour Tuesday at Jackson Hole High School. Roundy is present at the school whenever students are in the building, as well as during special events.

In the wake of another school shooting the debate continues about school safety in Teton County School District No. 1. While students around the country are walking out to protest school safety next week, adults are talking about how to best protect schools — with differing strategies that range from familiarizing staff with the sound of gunfire to further securing buildings and arming teachers.

Area schools haven’t been immune to gun threats. On March 1 Teton School District 401 in Teton Valley reported an unsubstantiated tip that someone was bringing a weapon to school, and in February, Teton High School in Driggs received an anonymous gun threat that prompted law enforcement to patrol the school. In January Jackson Hole High School, Summit High School, Jackson Hole Middle School and Colter Elementary School were briefly secured due to a threat made on social media.

These incidents, and the school shooting in Florida that left 17 dead, have prompted some — including President Donald Trump and the National Rifle Association — to suggest arming teachers could increase school safety.

The Riverton Ranger reported that most staff members at Fremont County School District No. 1 in Lander are in favor of allowing employees to carry firearms on school property. The Wyoming Tribune Eagle reported that at least four other district boards are in various stages of discussing policies that would let qualified teachers carry guns: Park County School District 6 in Cody, Uinta County School District No. 1 in Evanston, Campbell County School District No. 1 in Gilette and Natrona County School District No. 1 in Casper.

Wyoming State Statue 21-3-132 was passed by the Legislature last year and allows local trustees to adopt rules and regulations for the possession of firearms by employees with concealed-carry permits on district property. At the time Superintendent Gillian Chapman said that while she understood the intent of the bill was to provide a safe environment for schools, she wasn’t sure allowing guns in district schools was necessary in Teton County.

Despite the actions of some school boards, Teton County School District No. 1 board Chairwoman Kate Mead said she doesn’t think voting to arm teachers is likely here.

“I don’t see any of our faculty wanting to be a security officer, which is in essence what you are asking them to do,” Mead said.

The district likely wouldn’t be able to get insurance from the same insurer if it voted to arm teachers, Mead said.

She disagrees with a statewide approach of not funding upgrades to school security and giving the OK to arm teachers instead. After the Sandy Hook Elementary School shooting in 2013, Wyoming did a study of school security across the state with the intention of funding schools yearly to upgrade security. When revenue tanked, Mead said, that idea fell off.

“Now the idea is just, ‘Arm your teachers,’ which is not an effective approach to school safety,” she said

The Jackson Hole Tea Party believes differently, sending an email on Feb. 23 saying that “mass murderers are only stopped by armed defenders” and that gun-free zones aren’t effective.

Mead said the district will instead be looking at other ways of beefing up security, even if it causes inconveniences for staff and students. District staff is also thinking about ways to secure outlying schools that are farther from law enforcement. Currently, all schools have locked inner doors that require visitors to be buzzed through to gain access.

“I have to say that, reluctantly, after one of these horrible tragedies, we really look at security again,” Mead said. “We’re going to look at everything, once again. We’re going to work really hard on the low-hanging fruit stuff. There’s a lot of it out there.”

Quick fixes can include things like cement barriers so that cars can’t drive into schools — a feature that used to exist before it caused problems with snowplowing — making sure all classrooms can lock from the inside and blocking windows on classroom doors with bulletproof film. The film Mead is aware of wouldn’t stop a weapon like the AR-15 rifle used in the Parkland school shooting, but it would stop a handgun. USA Today reported that sales of bulletproof doors, windows and even backpacks boom in the wake of school shootings.

School safety measures are also being implemented in Munger Mountain Elementary School, which is under construction. Bulletproof glass will be put in to start, saving the need to retrofit down the road.

Other options that are less likely to happen but still might be considered include metal detectors and more school resource officers, or SROs. But at a time when schools aren’t getting more funding for their block grants from the state, more security officers would mean cutting other programs.

Teton County Sheriff’s Lt. Matt Carr said law enforcement is constantly training for active shooter situations, learning from incidents that happen elsewhere and partnering to support schools. They work with students and staff to help them make the informed choice of whether to evacuate — and how — or barricade in the event of an attack.

“You can’t plan for every event and, generally, if you do plan the plans go out the window in the first minute and a half,” Carr said. “But it’s critical as to what happens prior to our arrival. The days of setting up a perimeter and waiting for backup are long over, and in an active shooter situation officers are immediately sent to engage the shooter. But what happens before we get there is really critical. The most important thing to do is to not stop thinking.”

Past training included familiarizing staff with the sound of gunfire during in-service days at Jackson Hole High School when Carr was an SRO there and Summit High School this year. Confirmation bias often causes witnesses to shootings to think the sound is some other noise, not a gun.

“If you’re in the same hallway it’s pretty obvious,” Carr said. “But the next hallway over, or in the rotunda, it’s a very different sound. School acoustics are different. It’s really hard, but if we can provide that so they have an idea, that’s super important. It’s pretty invaluable.”

In the meantime, the district will continue to practice active shooter drills.

“That can be terrifying for children, but by the same token I think you just have to have them comfortable knowing what to do,” Mead said. “Parents get freaked out and I don’t blame them. I was too. It’s scary.”

Contact Kylie Mohr at 732-7079, schools@jhnewsandguide.com or @JHNGschools.

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(2) comments

Terry Milan

To various degrees, industry has had to deal with workplace security for many years. From their experience, there may be knowledge that is applicable to schools. Arming all the workers wasn't one that I saw much of. In fact, at our Texas facility, employees were required to turnover any weapons, prior to entering the building. Having a lot of unorganized shooters in a crowd situation, might not reduce the body count, only confuse the issue of who the real threat is. That aside, the method was to prevent a potential threat from entering the premises in the first place. In a campus setting, this was usually restricting access through a gate to cars having IDs. Any other vehicle had to stop, state reason and provide an onsite contact that gave permission to enter the premises. Entering buildings meant going through another check point. Usually only one per building. Each emplojyee was given an ID, those now usually containing a chip. Just like getting on the lift at Teton Village. All other exits triggered an alarm which would bring police and fire. Some business even had restricted access within the building, requiring a card swipe to enter. This was just more precaution, should the first two fail. Much can be learned from companies and the resources they use to protect their employees. This comes at a cost. A lot of the convenience and ease of access goes away. The kids at school, should be as protected as some employees.

William Addeo

Board Chairwoman, Kate Mead says, " I don't see our faculty wanting to be security officers. " She doesn't think the vote to arm teachers is likely. Last but not least, she says "Now the idea is just arm your teachers which is not an effective approach to school safety." Really? So gun free zones really work?
Some anti-second amendment advocate talking heads have recently said, "What's more important, kids or guns." That is what's called spin. I'll tell you what's more important, child safety is more important. Have you been to an airport lately? People have given up liberty for safety. We need more idiot control, not more gun control. The Mayor of Nashville was just charged with a felony for theft and for also having sex with her security detail sergeant. Why does the Mayor on Nashville have a security detail? To make her important, that's why. All these big shots who want gun control have armed body guards. They know what's best for you?
It is obvious, Kate Mead, does not know what she is talking about. Ms Mead, please tell me why cops have guns? Did you know that the United States Supreme Court ruled many years ago that it is not the responsibility of law enforcement to provide protection to the public? They are a reactionary force unless the Sheriff wants cops in the schools to protect the kids. Most Sheriffs thankfully, are moving in that direction. The only way to stop a shooter is armed self defense at the point of attack. The four cops in Florida were total cowards for not going into the school. That should show you how much the police are there to protect your kids after the shooting starts Now they want to raise the age to purchase guns to 21 years old? That will not stop a maniac from getting a gun on the black market. Why do we always want to punish the honest people for crimes committed by lunatics?
I'm sorry if you are getting offended by the facts but this is how freedom dies.
No guns in schools? Have you tried to get into Congress lately? Are they more important than kids? Can you imagine putting a sign on your house that says, (Gun free zone?) The truth is, it's your responsibility to protect your kids. Pay for cops in every school and cut some welfare entitlements to pay for it. Now, That's American!
God Bless America!

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