By Kathy Brown
Gillette News Record
Via Wyoming News Exchange
GILLETTE — The second round of public comments about the Campbell County School District considering arming educators for safety drew 30 people and 11 speakers Thursday evening.
The district is using three armed educator listening sessions to gauge public sentiment in favor or opposing such a policy. One public session remains, and although there were more comments in favor of the measure Thursday, the number of those opposed also grew.
The school district’s Safety Committee — trustee Toni Bell, Superintendent Alex Ayers and state Sen. Michael Von Flatern, R-Gillette — were among those who gathered in Gillette to hear comments from residents about whether they want to move forward on a Wyoming statute that allows school employees to conceal carry guns as a matter of safety.
Two weeks earlier, 10 of 11 speakers said they oppose the measure. Many of those speaking were retired teachers.
On Thursday, seven of the 11 speakers opposed arming teachers or staff, which could include parent volunteers. Four were in favor of the district continuing to look into the issue.
“I do not support arming the teachers,” said parent Jason Buerman.
The retired Marine, who has two children in the school system, said he’s “stared down the barrel of a gun” and twice had to use his own gun while in the service.
“Teachers are nurturers,” he said, asking if the district has considered putting resource officers in schools instead or employing metal detectors.
After he spoke, Alex Bredthauer spoke in favor of the district allowing armed educators.
“I’m tired of our schools being labeled as easy targets,” the parent said, adding that he investigated the school district in Cody, which has adopted its own measure.
He spoke of teachers who have put themselves in front of schoolchildren to protect their lives, including a lockdown when he was a student shortly after the 2007 Virginia Tech University shooting when an undergrad student killed 32 and wounded 23.
“My teacher said, ‘Don’t worry, I will protect you.’ That’s some incredible love and devotion,” Bredthauer said. “Like it or not, police have a response time. Every second matters. The last line of defense between our kids ... our are teachers.
“They will stand in harm’s way to protect our kids.”
‘Part-time gun toters’
Jay Mahylis, a retired educator, said Wyoming doesn’t require a concealed weapon permit, although it issues them so guns can be carried in other states where allowed.
He opposes allowing educators to be armed in schools and wondered if the district has looked into the use of metal detectors, if DARE officers could be used as school resource officers in elementary schools and whether those selected to be armed in schools will undergo significant psychological testing.
Finally, as the father of a local police officer, he asked how law enforcement officers would be able to distinguish between an active shooter and an armed school employee if an incident happens.
Steve Hill, another retired teacher and former Marine and security officer, also had several questions. He wondered why school resource officers don’t cover after-school events, if there is anyone qualified in the district to oversee school security details and who would monitor schools every hour of the day.
“I don’t think part-time gun toters is the answer,” he said.
Full-time security guards might be a better solution than a measure to arm educators, he added.
Statute sets a high bar
Jason Hawk spoke in favor of the effort. He’s an elementary school educator in Campbell County and a former infantryman and sniper who served in Iraq.
After leaving active duty in the military, Hawk said he was a weapons instructor for the Army Reserves. He also continues to teach concealed carry at a range in Gillette and also children’s gun safety and marksmanship classes.
“I am here to voice my support for arming selected staff in Campbell County,” he said. “After reading the requirements put forth in the statute and hearing some of the shortcomings identified even tonight, I support our school board coming up with a plan that will allow teachers to defend their students.
“While some fellow veterans did not support this, and for intensely personal reasons that are completely understandable, they do not speak for me. Nobody speaks for me as far as whether or not I’d be willing to be armed to defend my students.”
In an active shooter situation, “if you fail to act, it will not be a student that you will be mourning,” Hawk said. “It will be a group of students that, if you survive, you will be mourning.”
He also said the statute “sets a very high bar in training, it sets a high bar in responsibility.”
The district also has the ability to raise those training requirements, which are something local law enforcement officials have said previously they feel are inadequate, he said.
Look at the research
Christine Engel, a parent of three children with two in the school system, presented research to the committee about how the presence of a gun in situations can escalate and not calm a situation.
The research covers the past 20 years of mass school shootings, she said.
The information also casts doubt on having armed civilians in schools and if that actually increases safety in schools, Engel said.
“I think it’s an absolutely terrible idea,” she said. “Arming teachers is not the answer.”
At the same time, parent Tanya Kummerich — who grew up in rural Montana where guns are a part of life — said she finds it disheartening for the school district to even consider arming educators.
Lisa Mahylis questioned what the district would do for educators if they suffer psychological damage from their role in a shooting.
She presented worker’s compensation policies for schools in which jobs in extra-hazardous occupations only are covered by job-related injury insurance in Wyoming. That list includes transportation, warehouse, maintenance, special education and nutrition employees.
She suggested buying metal detectors as an alternative for safety rather than dealing with the guilt after an incident.
For rural 4-J School Principal David Hardesty, who served in the Navy, the question of student safety is a daily one. It’s one he mulls while driving to and from school each day and listening to news reports, sometimes about school shootings.
“On my mind is how can I make my school better,” he said, adding he feels the school district should move forward with considering arming educators.
“If somebody got into my school or on my playground, I need a way to remove the threat,” he said.
At that point, metal detectors, the use of tasers and other alternatives are moot, he said.
All of those in the room can agree on one thing, Hardesty said: “We’re here because we all love kids.”
Also speaking in favor of the school district developing a policy arming teachers was Kirby Baier, principal at Wright Junior-Senior High School.
“I had skin in the game years ago,” he said about his kids attending public school. “To me, it makes sense.”
He said the first three people killed in the Sandy Hook Elementary School shooting in Connecticut were staff members. If one of them had been armed, it may have ended what became a tragic mass shooting.
“I support any decision you make,” he said.
At the same time, parent Adam Schuff said he’s so strongly opposed to the policy it may make him consider whether his children should attend local public schools if it were adopted.
“This is a make-or-break issue,” he said. “Please do not take this lightly.”