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Gillette School Shooting

Terry Quinn, principal of Sage Valley Junior High School in Gillette, greets a student outside of the school. In November, Quinn convinced a student planning to stage a shooting at the school to turn over his weapon and surrender peacefully.

GILLETTE — This month, the Campbell County School District will have a chance to move forward with drafting a policy to arm educators.

District Superintendent Alex Ayers said the administration will ask the board at the next meeting if it wants staff to go ahead and draft the policy.

If the board votes in favor of going ahead with creating the policy, then it will go up for first reading, two hearings, “at least,” over a 45-day period then a final reading and vote, he said.

“It would take some time for that policy to be put into place,” Ayers added.

Part of the information the board will look at when considering the request is what the district finds out after meeting with the city about adding more school resource officers at campuses.

The city now provides three school resource officers — one apiece at Campbell County and Thunder Basin high schools, and one who covers both Sage Valley and Twin Spruce junior high schools.

Three people at Tuesday’s meeting said they are not only against arming educators, but are against the idea of discussing it at all.

“As a student I would never have felt safe knowing that my teachers were armed,” said 2017 CCHS graduate Emma Engel. “How can students focus on academics and even athletics when they are living in constant fear of violence?

“Educators are meant to educate our children, not to have to use firearms.”

The thought of sending siblings and/or future children to a school with armed staff is “terrifying,” she said after the meeting.

“I wish it would just be dropped and we don’t have future discussions,” Engel said.

Her mother, Christine Engel, said she’s appalled that the district would use the findings of district surveys to move forward with the policy discussion.

The district conducted two surveys of residents and district staff regarding a potential armed educator policy. A majority of residents voted in favor of arming staff, 75.7 percent, with 18.5 percent opposed and 5.8 percent needing more information. As for staff, 58 percent were in favor, 21 percent opposed and the rest wanting more facts.

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Tuesday night, Deputy Superintendent Kirby Eisenhauer presented a list of questions and answers addressing concerns from residents who requested more information. One question answers the question, for example, what would cause an armed employee to use their firearm?

“The only approved situation that would initiate the use of the firearm would be to try to stop or impede an active act of school violence that is causing serious bodily injury or death of students and staff,” the district states.

Members of the public said the district has not done enough research to justify considering an armed educator policy.

Resident Adam Schuff said because of the district’s lack of evidence-based research in support of arming staff, creating a policy would be “reckless.”

Schuff and Christine Engel provided a few alternatives to arming staff.

Schuff suggested the district looks at nonviolent and proactive approaches like requiring staff to wear identification badges, check-in visitors before allowing them into the building and having staff undergo training on de-escalating techniques.

Engel believes the district needs to do more research and look at “common sense approaches” such as adding more school resource officers and installing metal detectors.

“Research shows that when guns are present violence increases,” she said. “Do the research and you can see the discussion of arming teachers is the wrong answer.”

Trustee Toni Bell told the News Record that while the board had previously heard the arguments that were presented, residents provided good alternatives — like school resource officers — that deserve to be considered.

“It will be nice to have a real debate with the board, but right now we’re still gathering information,” Bell said.

Trustee Ken Clouston said after the meeting he attended a national school board conference for two years. Last year, a man with the Department of Homeland Security said educators should not be armed because he thought the risks and costs were too high. A year later, however, the same person said the only way to protect a school is to arm staff if they have the correct training because law enforcement may not get to the scene on time.

“When I see these studies, some of these from years previously, it makes you wonder what next year’s studies will show,” Clouston added.

Clouston said he’d rather see trained professionals be armed at schools, “but the costs of that may be unreasonable.”

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