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Student Walkout

Natrona County High School students Lindsay Clark and Kaelen Rodriguez embrace as they gather with fellow classmates Wednesday for a student organized walkout to show solidarity with Parkland, Florida and other victims of past mass shootings. Riverton High School students also recently expressed concerns about school safety.

Josh Galemore, Star-Tribune

It’s been a tense month for Natrona County schools. Three threats have been made against area schools in the past four weeks. The latest prompted a district-wide lockout and led to the arrest of one student.

People are on edge after last month’s shooting at a school in Parkland, Florida, which left 17 dead. The massacre has prompted a national discussion about school violence. Some want to limit the legal age for purchasing firearms. Others want school districts to arm their staff. Many advocate for preventive strategies, like intervention for at-risk youth. Everyone wants to see something done to ensure that when they see their kids off to school in the morning it won’t be for the last time.

Natrona County School District has spent the weeks following the Florida shooting considering these solutions. Now, they’ve announced that they’ll be ratcheting up punishments for threats by students.

Per the new policy, any student that makes a threat of violence would face expulsion. And that makes sense. Given the stakes, any realistic threat should be taken seriously.

None should be tolerated.

But all decisions that will affect students, their parents and the community at large should be brought before a public forum. Feedback from the public is crucial to ensuring that a solution will be viable and accepted by the school community. The district should know by now what happens when they fail to facilitate a dialogue with the community. They should seek to bring the public on board now, before making any final changes to policy

Because parents need to buy in to this solution before it can be effective, they may be the source of many good ideas.

Most people will agree that threats shouldn’t be taken lightly. And if a student is joking or acting out, their actions should face consequences. Even if a student has no intentions of committing an act of violence, threats often lead to lockdowns and investigations, which waste valuable resources.

But the district needs to make sure it’s a smart system. Not all threats are the same. Young students playing inappropriately at recess shouldn’t face expulsion. If a first-grader is playing cops and robbers on the playground, pointing at their peers with guns fashioned from their index finger and thumb, they shouldn’t face expulsion.

District officials also need to consider how they will ensure that any student they expel doesn’t still intend to act on their threats. Because expelled students can walk into a school and shoot their peers. So the district should have a plan in place.

We’re glad that the district is assessing how to best address school threats. And we’re glad they’re erring on the side of caution, even when it comes to seemingly benign threats. Because none of them should be taken lightly.

We hope the district will bring this issue to the public. We hope they’ll listen to the feedback from the community. Because a board of officials can’t solve school violence on its own. After all, it takes a village.

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Opinion Editor

Dallas Bower joined the Star-Tribune copy desk in June 2017. She studied English at the University of Wyoming. Her favorite book is The Sun Also Rises by Ernest Hemingway, or Harry Potter, depending on the day.

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