Powell school board members were scheduled to decide Wednesday whether they wanted to start drafting a policy that would allow trained staff to carry concealed weapons.
Instead, the board voted unanimously to create a proactive safety and security plan for Park County School District No. 1.
“For me, it just seems like adopting a concealed carry policy is taking the district from Step A to Step Z without ever considering everything in between,” said Chairman Greg Borcher.
He said it’s not a Second Amendment issue, but a school safety issue.
“I think what we’ve heard most is people want to keep kids safe,” Borcher said. “We just vary on how we think kids might be safe in school.”
A comprehensive safety plan, which will focus on five pillars of school safety, is a “good avenue to go down,” Borcher said.
In a second motion, the board voted to hire an outside firm to conduct a safety and security audit of the school district within the next calendar year.
“This gives us time and the ability to examine everything in the middle and see what we should be doing, instead of just peer pressure or whatever that we have to do this now,” Borcher said.
Using recommendations and findings from the audit, the district will look at how to increase safety of students, staff and facilities, “up to and including the potential for arming staff through a responsible concealed carry policy,” according to the motion approved Wednesday.
Trustee Don Hansen said the board’s decision doesn’t close the door, but also doesn’t open the door.
“… It leaves it up to this board here to decide with more information, and that’s what I like, because right now, I don’t think anybody here has enough information to make a good decision,” Hansen said.
After Wyoming lawmakers cleared the way last year for trained staff to carry concealed weapons in schools, Powell and other districts around the state have spent months talking about whether to arm staff.
The Cody school board is set to decide tonight (Tuesday) whether to adopt a concealed carry policy; the board has approved a draft policy on two previous readings.
Following a February school shooting in Florida, stories about school safety, firearms and student-led protests dominated national headlines.
“Since our discussion has come at a time when there’s lots of news on this issue, I was concerned that we would be reactive and that putting a concealed carry policy in at this time would be more reactive than broadly proactive,” said Trustee Kimberly Condie.
She feels Powell school leaders should look at students’ well-being more broadly, continue the safety/security measures already in place and consider “what are the real dangers facing our children, what are the most likely scenarios.”
Condie added that you cannot say a school shooting could never happen in Powell, “but what are the most likely dangers facing our children right now?” she asked. “Let’s see what we can do.”
Several school board members called it a complex issue that will take time.
“The safety of our kids is just much more than talking about guns in schools,” said Trustee Trace Paul. “It goes way beyond that particular topic, and I think we’ve got to take that into consideration.”
Five pillars of school safety
The board directed Superintendent Jay Curtis to create a safety and security plan that includes five pillars of safety:
• Building safety, access and protocol
• Employee and student training
• Social/emotional and mental health
• Emergency preparedness and crisis management
• Interagency agreements and coordination
Curtis said he will work collaboratively with employees in the district and other agencies in the community to address those five areas.
“This is a complex, huge problem, and no one person has all the answers,” Curtis said. “We’re smarter when we’re together.”
He said it will be based on research, and will take time.
“I would like Powell to take the lead on this in our state,” Curtis said. “... we’re going to encourage other school districts to collaborate with us as well and make this a statewide solution.”
Curtis and trustees noted that Powell schools have already implemented a variety of safety/security measures and training, and are looking at doing more — such as applying ballistic film to strengthen windows.
The Powell school district wants to continue to be proactive, Curtis said.
“We’re doing more than any school district that I know of, at least in the state of Wyoming,” Curtis said.
Looking at mental health and identifying anti-social behaviors at an early age also is important, he said.
“Everything we’ve talked about thus far has been, ‘What happens if?’ But not a lot of discussion has been had on, how do we prevent the ‘if’?” Curtis said.
If you look at the profiles of most school shooters, “They didn’t one day decide to pick up a gun and go shoot the school,” he said. “It’s a slow burn that occurs, and oftentimes, you’ll hear them talk clear down to what they were like as an elementary student.”
In addition to addressing those five main areas, the district will put out a request for proposals (RFP) to hire a firm to conduct a safety and security audit. That will include reviewing the safety plan, school facilities and policies.
“I don’t think that we can be objective in our own buildings,” Curtis said, adding that “our emotions are too close to this.”
The board authorized spending up to $25,000 on the audit. Some of that money may come from state major maintenance funding for security or it could be a one-time expenditure at the end of the fiscal year, Curtis said.
A number of companies conduct security audits, including retired law enforcement and military, he said.
“We want them to take a look at not just our buildings, but our policy, the trainings we’ve already done,” he said.
Final public comments
In recent months, the school board discussed school safety and the possibility of a concealed carry policy at multiple meetings. The board also surveyed the community and school employees, held a public forum and took written comments.
During Wednesday’s meeting, two residents shared differing views on arming staff.
Troy Bray talked about the importance of teachers protecting students. He read from the Wyoming Constitution, Article 1 Section 24: “The right of citizens to bear arms in defense of themselves and of the state shall not be denied.”
“That’s pretty clear,” Bray said. “When you’re doing policy, this is the authority that you have. The Constitution of the State of Wyoming gives you the authority to have a school district. It does not give anybody, any governmental body, the authority to determine who can or can’t carry a gun.”
He urged the school board to formulate a policy that keeps that in mind.
“The teachers have the right to carry their own guns, if you want to provide training, that’s well within your authority. To demand training before they can exercise their right is not,” Bray said.
Sharon Bailey referenced an article that first appeared in the Casper Star-Tribune about law enforcement officials cautioning against arming school staff. According to the article, Casper has nearly 13,000 students and two school resource officers. By comparison, Powell has about 1,800 students and one school resource officer.
As a retired teacher, Bailey said that she knows many teachers, including herself, would do anything they could to protect a child.
“But I wouldn’t want to carry a gun to do it,” she said. “I don’t think that would be safe.”
For the first time since starting to discuss the possibility of concealed carry in schools, all seven Powell school board members publicly shared their views on the issue.
During Wednesday’s meeting, most school board members said they oppose a concealed carry policy or would like more time to look at the issues surrounding school safety and security.
“I don’t think we’re ready to put guns in our teachers’ hands,” said Trustee Lillian Brazelton.
She said it’s not a sprint, but a marathon.
“We need to look at the measures we were already taking and continue that route,” Brazelton said. “We need to have someone come in and look at what we’re doing, what we have in place, what we think we’re doing right ...”
Trustee Kim Dillivan praised the district’s current security measures and said he would like to continue to think about those things.
“... for me personally, I don’t believe more guns in schools is the way to go, except for security folks. I don’t think the answer is arming teachers or staff,” Dillivan said.
Several trustees said they want to look at other issues, including students’ social, emotional and mental health.
“We just really needed to look more broadly at student well-being and safety, and address maybe the more likely scenarios of where our children will be in danger, whether it’s physical or emotional or mental, so that’s just something that has kept coming to my mind,” said Trustee Kimberly Condie.
Trustee Tracy Morris said it’s important to stop and look at why someone would want to hurt others, and see if there’s bullying or a mental illness or something else going on.
“We just need to stop and look at the whole picture and start talking to each other to see what’s going on instead of saying, ‘Here, I’m going to put a gun in your hand and take care of it,’” she said.
Powell school board members recently attended a National School Boards Association conference, and Morris said she learned there’s not a simple answer when it comes to school safety.
“There’s not one answer,” she said. “It’s a big issue; it’s an emotional issue.”
Trustee Don Hansen echoed that it’s an emotional issue, and said he’s thought about it a lot, “and I still don’t have the answer.”
“I don’t know whether this is right for this school district or not,” Hansen said.
He questioned how the world got to this point, from what it was when he was a kid.
“It’s a screwed up world out there,” he said.
He said training staff members to carry concealed weapons is just another tool that can be put in the district’s toolbox.
“I’m a mechanic. I like having every tool in the world in my toolbox, just because some day, I may need that tool,” Hansen said.
“How are you going to stop someone with a gun?” Hansen continued. “There’s only one answer — someone with a bigger gun.”
Trustee Trace Paul said the board has heard from both sides in the community, and he respects the various viewpoints.
“I’m not opposed to a policy of putting guns in schools, but in my mind, it would have to be a very extensive and detailed policy that outlined in-depth training, handling, ammunition,” Paul said.
He said it would take a lot of time to develop a policy “because there’s so much we don’t know.”
A decision on the concealed carry right now is almost saying that the district’s security measures aren’t working, Paul said.
“We don’t have any proof that it’s not working. There is a lot saying that it is working,” he said.
Chairman Greg Borcher agreed that the schools’ secure vestibules and other safety measures seem to be working. Borcher noted most employees have undergone ALICE training, which stands for Alert, Lockdown, Inform, Counter and Evacuate.
“We haven’t given it time to fully implement in the district,” he said.
In addition to the security measures already in place, Borcher said he wants to see what else the district can do to ensure kids’ safety.
“... What else is there out there that we could do besides putting lethal force into our schools and into our teachers’ hands?” he asked.
Borcher said he’s not comfortable with putting guns in schools at this point.
“To me, there’s too many things to think of afterward, too many variables,” he said.