RIVERTON — Local students are urging increased safety precautions at Riverton High School in the wake of the February shooting that left 17 dead at a school in Parkland, Florida.
Inspired by the Parkland students’ resulting activism on gun laws, RHS junior Ella Hauck and senior Kat Tyler told the Fremont County School District 25 Board of Trustees there are actions administrators could take — unrelated to gun access — that would make students safer.
“We feel unsafe in our school, and our children are unsafe,” Tyler said. “Every kid in this country now goes to school wondering if this day might be their last.”
On Thursday, superintendent Terry Snyder and RHS principal John Griffith held a roughly two-hour meeting with Hauck, Tyler and freshman Darious Tillman about the safety concerns. As a result, Griffith will head to Cheyenne on Monday — along with Hauck, Tyler, Tillman and student Joseph Thorton — so the students can try to convince legislators that further cuts to K-12 school funding are likely to harm existing safety measures that the Riverton school district has in place.
Hauck said RHS students are now participating in the “movement” started by students at Florida’s Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School.
“Please do not add your names to the list of the adults who are failing us,” Hauck told the Riverton school board.
Tyler said the district should add more school resource officers or use teachers to more thoroughly monitor the school grounds.
The district employees three SROs: one at RHS, one at Riverton Middle School and one covering local elementary schools.
Tyler said at least one SRO also is needed to monitor the walkway between the James H. Moore Career Center and RHS.
“There are too many entrances and exits in school for only one SRO to be protecting,” Tyler said. “Every day, every 50 minutes, kids walk from the high school to the career center.
“There is no security measure in place to protect those students on that walk — and it’s pretty long. When I come in from lunch, the front doors are unlocked, and there’s no one in the office. I’m aware that this is ... lunch hour and everyone needs a lunch, but there should at least be someone in there filling in.”
Tyler said students also are frequently let in the school’s side doors — ones that are supposed to be locked during school hours. Staff members should be used to monitor those entrances during class periods, she said.
Tyler said she doesn’t want the school to “become a prison,” noting her opposition to having metal detectors at entrances, or any other “extreme measures.”
When she conducted an informal poll about the idea of arming teachers, she said she was unable to find any teachers comfortable with carry a gun in the school.
“I know plenty of teachers that would die for their students, but we’re hoping (they) never have to,” she said.
Snyder thanked the students for sharing their concerns.
“The unfortunate part is that your fears are very real,” he said. “You’re in a different position to look at this than we are.”
Snyder said the situation will be exacerbated if the Wyoming Legislature passes some of the major cuts to school funding that are currently being debated.
Legislators are currently weighing cuts that, if passed, could reduce Riverton’s annual block grant by up to $3 million.
The block grant funding the state provides does not cover SROs, but Snyder said if the cuts are passed, the district would be unlikely to have any excess funds to pay for the officers.
Snyder said that having the students warn legislators about the safety implications of further cuts in Cheyenne would “be a very good seed to plant in their mind.”
School board chairman Carl Manning said that, when it comes to lobbying legislators, “students talking is a very powerful thing.”
Snyder said the district has made safety improvements a priority since he became superintendent.
The district has added “vestibule-controlled entries” to all schools and replaced staff members’ keys with digital key cards that can be deactivated “within minutes” if lost.
The district also has upgraded its security cameras.
“We have cameras everywhere,” Snyder said. “We’re always watching.”
Teachers have also received training on the new “Run, Hide, Fight” method of surviving an active shooter.
“If we have active shooters, I want our teachers to be active thinkers,” Snyder said.
Snyder added that he’s sure students occasionally put rocks or pencils in side doors to prop them open for friends.
“It’s not the friend we worry about so much as the person behind the friend who barges in,” he said.
Such “impurities” in the system need to be address, he said. “There very well could be some adjustments that we could make, and sometimes there are some adjustments that can be made than don’t cost anything,” he said.
Board member Becky Lancaster said that students also need to develop a culture that encourages their peers to “say something if you hear something.”
“Sometimes the best information that comes to the adults is from the teens,” she said.
Board member Larry Chouinard also echoed that students need to be “the first line of defense. You hear more than we are ever going to,” he said. “We’ve had some bad things stopped in the last 25 years because kids came forward.”