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Law enforcement officials advocate for more police in schools but caution against arming staff

A group of law enforcement officials advised the Natrona County school board Monday to put more police in schools but cautioned against arming teachers.

The meeting, which was attended by the Casper police chief and the Natrona County sheriff, was the first public discussion between school board members and law enforcement since the Feb. 14 massacre at a Parkland, Florida, high school. It comes as the board and the country at large debate how to best protect schools. In Wyoming, many districts — including Natrona County — are beginning to look seriously at arming trained and willing staff members.

Much of the meeting revolved around the talking points that are often brought up in the wake of these shootings: arming staff, gun-free zones and increasing police — or armed guards — in schools.

Currently, there are two school resources officers in Casper. The district has more than 30 schools and nearly 13,000 students.

“I was stunned there were only two,” Casper Police Chief Kevin McPheeters said. He’d like to add two more by the beginning of the next school year and continue building the numbers after that, he added.

“There are two guys taking care of 12,000-plus kids,” said Casper Police Lt. Ryan Dabney. “Unfortunately, there’s no way. You have to increase those numbers.”

While both the school board and law enforcement want to do just that, it’s unclear how: The district has faced funding cuts over the past two years, and the city is not exactly flush with cash. The police department has other, more pressing needs, McPheeters said.

“You guys passed a resolution, but I don’t think there was any funding involved,” board member Kevin Christopherson called out to Dallas Laird, a city councilman who was sitting in the audience Monday.

But there are relatively small things schools can do to improve security, Dabney said. For one, schools should have a single point of entry. Students and staff should go in one door and not open side doors for anyone.

“That can’t happen,” Dabney told the school board. “Nobody should be letting them in those doors.”

At the front doors, visitors often need to be buzzed in by staff. The staff manning those stations should pay more attention to who’s trying to walk in, law enforcement said. Just seeing a smiling face doesn’t mean that person is there for benevolent reasons.

A number of board members asked about arming staff. School districts across the state are considering allowing trained and willing staff to bear arms in schools, and Natrona County’s board is in the early stages of looking at implementing a policy.

Law enforcement seemed uniformly against it.

“I am vehemently opposed to it,” Dabney said. He’d hate if police were to enter a school in an active-shooter situation, saw an adult holding a gun and opened fire, not knowing that it was just a teacher.

“This is a decision that is fraught with peril,” McPheerson said of arming staff.

Law enforcement officers are highly trained to carry handguns, he said, and in scenarios in which they have to use them, they hit their target less than 20 percent of the time. Now, consider a teacher holding a handgun in a chaotic situation.

District Attorney Michael Blonigen said another problem is keeping the weapon secured 24 hours a day. Plus, what happens if the teacher shoots a student? What if a student gets a hold of the gun?

“Boy, what kind of civil liability are you taking on here if you’re going to arm teachers?” he said. “Wow. Those checks ain’t small. ... To me there’s just too many — it’s fraught with so many legal liability and potential problems.”

Board member Clark Jensen said he was concerned that schools being gun-free zones had made them an easy target.

McPheeters said any place where a large number of people are in a confined space is a target and that the best deterrent was a police presence.

“Gun free doesn’t make you any greater target,” he said. “It’s concentration of people.”

Blonigen added that most school shooters are students themselves. These shooters target places against which they have specific grievances. Plus, the shooters often don’t have any intention of making it out alive, so would the presence of armed personnel have any effect as a deterrent?

He also cautioned against a zero-tolerance policy when it comes to dealing with threats. They should be dealt with on an individual basis, he said. The police may request that they search the student’s home. But Bloningen said officials should ask more questions before bringing in the police.

Alan Rogers, Star-Tribune 

Workers begin demolishing part of the facade of the former Plains Furniture building Tuesday afternoon on David Street in downtown Casper. Behind the wall is the original exterior of the city's 1920s-era municipal garage, which was connected to the former fire house. The historic fire station's owner acquired the soon-to-be-uncovered garage as part of a land swap with the city.

AP sources: Raid related to payments to women accusing Trump

WASHINGTON — Federal agents who raided the office of President Donald Trump's personal attorney, Michael Cohen, were looking for information about payments to a former Playboy playmate and a porn actress who claim to have had affairs with Trump, two people familiar with the investigation said Tuesday.

Public corruption prosecutors in the U.S. Attorney's office in Manhattan are trying to determine if there was any fraud related to the payments to Karen McDougal and Stormy Daniels, according to one of the people. McDougal, a former playmate, was paid $150,000 by the parent company of the National Enquirer for her story, though the magazine never published it. Cohen paid $130,000 to Daniels as part of an agreement, made before the 2016 election, to keep her from going public with her allegations.

A warrant used in the raid Monday specifically authorized agents to seize records related to McDougal, said one of the people, who demanded anonymity to discuss the confidential details.

The payments appear to be part of a pattern of Trump' self-described fixer trying to shield the businessman-turned-politician from embarrassing press by buying women's silence.

The new details on the Cohen raid, first reported by The New York Times, emerged as the president boiled over on Twitter about it and amid evidence that investigators are zeroing in on his inner circle. The raid on Cohen was not carried out by special counsel Robert Mueller's team but instead by federal authorities in New York.

But the president's ire has been directed at Mueller and his boss, Deputy Attorney General Rod Rosenstein. On Monday, Trump called Mueller's investigation "an attack on our country" and suggested he was considering firing the special counsel.

The White House remained defiant that the president has the power to directly fire Mueller — despite Justice Department regulations saying otherwise. The regulations say only Rosenstein, who appointed Mueller last May, has the authority to fire him and only for specific cause. Rosenstein has repeatedly said that he has not seen any reason to dismiss Mueller.

White House press secretary Sarah Huckabee Sanders said Tuesday that Trump "certainly believes he has the power" to fire Mueller, though he isn't taking that step now. She echoed Trump's frustration, saying he believes federal authorities have "gone too far" by seizing communication between a lawyer and his clients.

The furious president himself blasted out his displeasure early Tuesday, saying on Twitter: "Attorney-client privilege is dead!"

In fact, attorney-client privilege is not absolute and can't be invoked when the discussion was part of an effort to commit a crime. The search was authorized by a judge and no evidence suggests it was carried out improperly.

The search did not appear related to allegations of Russian election interference or possible coordination with the Trump campaign, the main focus of Mueller's probe. But the raid was prompted, at least in part, by evidence or allegations uncovered by Mueller's team.

Under Justice Department regulations, Mueller must consult with Rosenstein when his investigators uncover new evidence that may fall outside his original mandate. Rosenstein then determines whether to allow Mueller to proceed or to assign the matter to another U.S. attorney or another part of the Justice Department.

FBI agents searched Cohen's office, apartment and a hotel room where he's been staying while his home is under renovation, looking for documents related to Daniels and McDougal.

McDougal has said she carried on an affair with Trump in 2006 after the birth of his son. The Enquirer's publisher, American Media Inc., said they paid McDougal for details of the alleged affair, but they never appeared in print. AMI has said she was paid to become a fitness columnist.

Cohen's attorney, Stephen Ryan, did not respond to questions about McDougal on Tuesday.

Agents also seized records related to a $130,000 payment made to Daniels, who says she had sex with Trump the same year as McDougal. Daniels' team has had extensive communications with federal investigators, said a third person familiar with the investigations, who demanded anonymity to discuss the confidential matter.

Cohen has said he paid Daniels out of his own pocket shortly before the 2016 presidential election, but has not explained why.

Several former officials at the Federal Election Commission have said the payment could have violated campaign finance laws, because it may amount to an unreported campaign donation.

Cohen has said neither the Trump Organization nor the Trump campaign was involved in the transaction with Daniels and he was not reimbursed for the payment. Trump has said he didn't know about the payment. The White House has consistently said Trump denies the affair.

In his first public comments since the raid, Cohen told CNN on Tuesday that he is rethinking how he handled the payment to Daniels because of what it's done to his family. He also praised the FBI agents who carried out the search as "professional, courteous and respectful."

Asked if he was worried, Cohen told CNN: "I would be lying to you if I told that I am not. Do I need this in my life? No. Do I want to be involved in this? No."

Trump and allies mull possible joint response in Syria

WASHINGTON — Trump administration officials consulted with global allies Tuesday on a possible joint military response to Syria's alleged poison gas attack, as President Donald Trump canceled a foreign trip in order to manage a crisis that is testing his vow to stand up to Syrian President Bashar Assad.

Trump spoke with other world leaders, and other U.S. officials said the U.S., France and Britain were in extensive consultations about launching a military strike as early as the end of this week. None of the three countries' leaders had made a firm decision, according to the officials, who were not authorized to discuss military planning by name.

A joint military operation, possibly with France rather than the U.S. in the lead, could send a message of international unity about enforcing the prohibitions on chemical weapons and counter Syria's political and military support from Russia and Iran.

President Emmanuel Macron said France, the U.S. and Britain will decide how to respond in the coming days. He called for a "strong and joint response" to the attack in the Syrian town of Douma on Saturday, which Syrian activists and rescuers say killed 40 people. The Syrian government denies responsibility.

The French president does not need parliamentary permission to launch a military operation. France is already involved in the U.S.-led coalition created in 2014 to fight the Islamic State group in Syria and Iraq. Multiple IS attacks have targeted French soil, including one last month.

Trump suggested Monday he had little doubt that Syrian government forces were to blame for what he said was a chemical attack, but neither he nor other administration officials have produced hard evidence. Officials suggested such evidence was lacking, or at least not yet at hand. This is in contrast to an incident one year ago in which U.S. intelligence agencies had video and other evidence of certain aspects of the actual attack, which involved the use of Sarin gas. Trump responded by launching Navy cruise missiles at a Syrian airfield.

One official said the U.S., France and Britain were considering military options that would be more extensive than the punitive, one-day strike last April. That strike did not appear to have had the desired effect of deterring Assad from further use of chemical agents. So the three countries are discussing a range of options, including preventing Assad from conducting future attacks by striking military capabilities involved in carrying out such attack, the official said.

Asked whether France would take military action, Macron said his country will continue discussing technical and strategic information with U.S. and British allies and "in the coming days we will announce our decision." He said any action would "target chemical weapons" stocks. Under a 2013 agreement for which Russia was a guarantor, Syria was to have eliminated all its chemical weapons, but it has used chlorine and perhaps other chemicals since then.

Trump spoke by phone with British Prime Minister Theresa May. A British government statement said the two agreed the attack in Syria was "utterly reprehensible" and that the international community must respond "to uphold the worldwide prohibition on the use of chemical weapons." Trump met at the White House with the emir of Qatar, Sheikh Tamim bin Hamad Al Thani, who told reporters that he and Trump "see eye to eye" on the Syria problem.

Meanwhile, watchdog agency, the Organization for the Prohibition of Chemical Weapons, announced that it will send "shortly" a fact-finding mission to Douma, after receiving a request from the Syrian government and its Russian backers to investigate the allegations. It was not immediately clear whether that visit would delay or avert U.S. or allied military action.

The Russian military, which has troops in Syria, said on Monday that its officers had visited the site of the alleged attack and found no evidence to back up reports of poison gas being used.

At the United Nations, meanwhile, Russia vetoed a U.S.-drafted U.N. resolution that would have condemned the suspected gas attack and established a new body to determine responsibility for Syrian chemical weapons attacks. The vote Tuesday in the 15-member Security Council was 12 in favor, with Bolivia joining Russia in voting "no," and China abstaining.

Rival U.S. and Russian resolutions to determine responsibility for chemical weapons attacks in Syria suffered defeats at the UN on Tuesday, a result that the Russian ambassador said the Trump administration wanted so it can "justify the use of force against Syria."

White House spokeswoman Sarah Huckabee Sanders said that Trump will not attend the 8th Summit of the Americas in Lima, Peru, or travel to Bogota, Colombia, as planned. She said he will stay home to "oversee the American response to Syria and to monitor developments around the world."

Amid the tough talk from the White House, the U.S. military appeared to be in position to carry out any attack order. A Navy destroyer, the USS Donald Cook, got underway in the eastern Mediterranean on Monday after completing a port call in Cyprus. The guided missile destroyer is armed with Tomahawk cruise missiles, the weapon of choice in a U.S. attack one year ago on an airfield in Syria following an alleged sarin gas attack on civilians.

National Assessment of EDUCATIONAL Progress
Wyoming students top national average in math, reading assessment

Wyoming’s fourth-graders were tied for best in the nation for math and topped the national average in every other area assessed, according to national results released Tuesday.

Eight other states were on par with the fourth-graders’ math scores on the National Assessment of Educational Progress, which is known as NAEP or the nation’s report card. The test — assessed every two years — samples fourth- and eighth-graders from across the nation on reading and math.

In addition to topping the nation in fourth-grade math, Wyoming students beat the national average in the three other areas for the third time in a row. Because the test takes a sampling of students statewide, district-by-district results are not available.

“NAEP provides an important independent look at how our schools are doing, and these results show that Wyoming schools and students have a lot to be proud of, particularly with fourth grade math,” State Superintendent Jillian Balow said in a statement. “Wyoming spends more per student than many states, and by equitably distributing those funds, we create opportunities for every student to be successful.”

Balow was one of four education officials from across the nation who participated in a panel about the NAEP scores Tuesday morning.

In fourth-grade reading, Wyoming beat out 34 states and was behind just three. It was effectively level with 14 others. In eighth-grade reading, Wyoming beat 23 states, was lower than seven and was not significantly different than 21 others.

For eighth-grade math, students here were topped by five other states, beat 36 others and were roughly level with 11 others.

States include the District of Columbia and Department of Defense schools.

Wyoming’s scores overall were all essentially flat compared to 2015 and 2013 results. In an article about what states were on a “hot streak” ahead of the 2017 NAEP results release, the Thomas B. Fordham Institute lauded Wyoming “for producing statistically significant gains among fourth graders in both reading and math.”

In a press release, the state Department of Education highlighted growth in mathematics scores for Native Americans.

“(T)heir increased performance in mathematics during 2017 significantly reduced the achievement gap between Native American and White students in Wyoming as previously reported in 2015,” the department said in a press release.

In Wyoming, the NAEP scores have become a political talking point that legislators have used to both justify spending cuts and to defend schools from those reductions. The scores often provide ammo for both sides. For instance, Wyoming is tied with several states in every metric, which, some lawmakers say, suggests students here are near the middle of the pack. They say that doesn’t justify the significant price the state spends per students.

“(W)hy are we spending so much for outcomes that are not distinguishable from our neighbors?” Sheridan Republican Sen. Dave Kinskey asked at an October meeting. “More importantly, what is the answer to getting more bang for our buck educationally?”

But defenders of Wyoming schools say that while Wyoming may be roughly even with a number of states, they’re beat by only a handful of others.

“Anecdotally, we seem to think that we’re doing poorly, and we keep hearing that over and over again,” Sen. Chris Rothfuss, a Laramie Democrat, said in that same October meeting. “But it is not born out by the data.”