The Natrona County School District board will likely discuss arming staff at some point soon, a board member said, a week after a gunman killed 17 people in a high school in Parkland, Florida.
Dana Howie, the school board’s vice chairwoman and the head of the policy subcommittee, said she’d gotten calls from a few residents, including City Councilman Jesse Morgan, about whether the district will consider allowing its teachers and staff to carry weapons. Last year, the Wyoming Legislature passed a bill that would allow school boards to decide whether to arm their employees.
She said the board will have a discussion about it soon.
“I know I’m going to bring it up with my policy committee and see what they have to say about it,” Howie said.
It’s the first sign of movement in Natrona County since the bill was passed last winter. Then-board chairman Kevin Christopherson said in March that while he supported it, he was too busy to bring it forward himself. It gained no outward traction for months, and in October, he said no one on the board was interested in pushing it.
Whether to arm school staff has become a common topic of debate after mass shootings. It emerged again in the wake of Feb. 14’s shooting at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School, where a former student carrying a semi-automatic assault weapon opened fire in a high school, killing 17 and injuring 14.
President Donald Trump tweeted last week that “highly trained teachers” would be able to “immediately fire back if a savage sicko came to a school with bad intentions.” But the superintendent in Broward County, the site of the shooting, pushed back against the president’s suggestion.
“I am totally against arming teachers,” Superintendent Robert Runcie said. “They have a challenging job as it is.”
There was an armed sheriff’s deputy on campus the day of the Parkland massacre. He did not enter the building during the shooting and has resigned.
Howie, the board member and a former teacher, said her personal opinion was that arming staff would create more problems than it would solve.
“I know that I would not want one,” she said. “I would do anything to protect my students. I seriously would rather stand there and have them behind me rather than shoot somebody just because I don’t think I can do it.”
She said the district currently provides active shooter training and has a crisis management team to prepare for emergency situations.
Other Wyoming districts have shown interest in arming teachers.
In Park County School District No. 6, the school board recently voted to move the policy forward. That board’s version would largely allow only certified staff — like teachers — to carry firearms on school property, Superintendent Ray Schulte said. There would be an exception for certain rural schools, where any approved personnel could carry a gun.
The district will also require psychological evaluations, alcohol and drug testing and board-approved training.
District officials issued a survey to its residents and is expecting the results by the end of February. The board will decide in March to move the policy to a final vote or reject it.
At a meeting in January, the “vast majority” of people who attended opposed the measure. A petition against arming staff was signed by more than 350 people.
Schulte said the opposition is “significant” but noted that the district has over 10,000 registered voters, hence the survey. The district’s staff was split between support and opposition, he said.
“All of the schools, whether they’re rural or located in Cody, there’s a question about if we have staff armed in the buildings, does that deter some people?” Schulte said. “Does it deter someone from coming onto our property and causing harm? I don’t know the answer to that. But certainly there are people who believe that.”
Superintendent Dave Barker, of Fremont County School District No. 1, said he was just starting to gather information for his board about arming staff. Like Schulte, Barker sent out a survey to the community to gauge interest.
“It’s looking like it’s about half,” he said of the initial survey results. “Fifty percent say it might be a good idea. Probably about 40 (percent) opposed, another 10 (percent) or so are kind of undecided.”
Unlike in Park 6, there’s been no definite action taken by Fremont 1’s board.
Kari Eakins, a spokeswoman for the state Department of Education, said the department didn’t have a formal count of how many districts are considering arming staff members. But various media reports she shared show that at least three more have looked at it recently: Park 1, Uinta 1 and Goshen 1.
All three had discussed arming staff before the Parkland shootings, per the media reports.
Howie said there’s interest in protecting students in Natrona County that isn’t isolated to arming staff. Two parents wanted to raise money for equipment to prevent doors from being opened.
She said that while she didn’t support it, the board will discuss allowing guns in schools.
“I think we have to listen to the public and see what they have to say,” she said.
The Associate Press contributed to this report.