The Natrona County School District isn’t considering allowing employees to carry guns, the board chairman said Wednesday, but at least one district in Wyoming is seriously examining arming staff.
“There’s been nobody on the board that has been interested in pushing that,” Natrona County board chairman Kevin Christopherson said Wednesday. “I’m kind of neutral on it. I’m not going to bring it forward. We have enough on our plate at this point in time to jump into another controversial thing like that.”
Last winter, the Legislature passed, and Gov. Matt Mead signed, a law permitting Wyoming school districts to authorize employees to carry firearms on district property. Generally, staff members will have to apply to carry a firearm and must meet training requirements and keep the weapon on their person or in a container, according to the law.
The measure was opposed by the Wyoming Education Association. State Superintendent Jillian Balow testified in favor of it, said Dicky Shanor, the Department of Education’s chief of staff.
After the law passed, Balow created a committee of educators, law enforcement and others to create a manual to help interested school boards navigate the process, Shanor said. The guidelines are nonregulatory, as the law delegated power to implement the law to school districts.
Christopherson said that he didn’t anticipate the discussion would “ever” come up for debate in front of the board, though he said any newly elected trustees could bring the issue forward.
Park County School District No. 6, on the other hand, is discussing the possibility. Ray Schulte, school district’s superintendent, said the Cody-based board had discussed the measure with law enforcement at a September meeting and had gone over the education department’s guidelines earlier this month.
“There are people on the board who have indicated that they would like to see armed personnel in the schools and there are people who have indicated the opposite,” he said. “Most of them, they want to hear more information.”
The board will have a more in-depth discussion about the guidelines next month, followed by a public forum in December. Schulte indicated it was difficult to voice support or opposition for a policy that’s yet to be written, but he said he would support arming at least some district personnel.
“We have a couple schools that are very rural, and knowing that the police response time for those schools is certainly much, much higher than it is in Cody city limits, I look at those situations differently,” he said, “and I’m more inclined to think, yeah if we had a good, clean, tight policy and school employees follow that policy and are given authority to carry weapon, I’d support that.”
In Natrona County, Sgt. Scott Jones of the Casper Police Department said the agency has not had formal talks with the district here about arming teachers. The law mandates that any districts seeking to arm staff consult with local law enforcement.
He said police’s primary concern with potentially arming employees is that they all be trained and careful with the weapon. He added that while the department wouldn’t necessarily need to know the exact location of all gun-carrying staffers, it would be important to find a way to differentiate staff from a threat in a potential active shooter situation.
The law requires the district notify parents and law enforcement of any staff members who have received permission to carry a firearm. It also gives the districts’ boards the authority to suspend or revoke an employee’s ability to carry on school grounds.
The law does not permit students or nondistrict employees to carry firearms on school property, even if they are licensed.
The delegation of power to school districts could create some confusion. For instance, the law allows “isolated rural schools” to waive the training requirements gun-carrying staff must meet. But, because no higher agency has rule-making authority under the law, it appears that a district will decide for itself whether it’s isolated and rural, Shanor said.
Schulte said two of his schools would be considered rural and isolated, but added that the Park 6 board likely wouldn’t support a policy that didn’t include training requirements.
He also expressed wariness about allowing volunteers to carry firearms. Under the law, employees under contract with the district — including volunteers — would be eligible to apply to be armed.
He and the board have plenty of questions they want answered.
“If staff were allowed to carry guns in school, do they go through psychological evaluation?” he said. “How much training, who pays for it? We haven’t had time to answer all those questions.”