GILLETTE — School trustees have unanimously approved a policy and regulations that would allow educators to conceal carry handguns in six rural schools in Campbell County.
The approval of the five trustees iat a Tuesday meeting came on first reading of the proposal that exceeds state requirements. After undergoing three public hearings on the proposal, the board will be asked to OK the measure in a final reading, said trustee chairwoman Anne Ochs.
Administrators covered nearly all 30 pages of the proposal — something that took just shy of an hour — before trustees voted. The proposal brought about 15-20 residents to the meeting, including some who helped draft it.
The trustees also praised efforts made by community members and school officials for developing a comprehensive proposal that covers concerns voiced by the public in more than a yearslong effort that included hearings and surveys.
“It’s amazingly well done. It’s exceeding everything you can do,” said trustee Linda Bricker. “There’s so few people who could pass all of this.”Trustee Ken Clouston said his preference has been for the school district to use as many school resource officers (provided by law enforcement) as it can.
“This is the next best option,” he said of the armed educator policy.
Trustee Joe Lawrence pointed out that the policy is the result of school shootings throughout the nation and a desire to protect kids.
“The reason we’re doing this is the world has changed,” he said. “This is for the rural schools … and those schools might be bigger targets.”
The policy covers six schools outside Gillette city limits, although it doesn’t name them. Meeting the definitions of "rural and distant schools" in the policy are Recluse, Little Powder, 4J, Rozet, Rawhide and Conestoga.
“At this point, that’s where this would be applied at, nowhere else,” said Deputy Superintendent Kirby Eisenhauer.
It will take time for law enforcement officers to respond to any incidents at those schools, he said, so that’s where administrators want to roll out the policy.
One local resident disagreed with that approach.
Alex Bredthauer read from index cards to make his points.
“I do think there is a hole if you don’t do this in every school in the district,” he said, adding that, “I appreciate you guys for all the homework you’ve done.”
Another speaker, Vicki Swenson, also asked officials to estimate the costs of the program since the district will pay for everything required except for firearms and holsters.
Eisenhauer said he would work on coming up with a rough estimate, something that hadn’t been done because the policy hadn’t been approved.
There are some requirements much more stringent than those approved by state legislators for allowing districts to use armed concealed carry staff for safety purposes.
The local policy requires 56 hours of district-approved training, including 32 hours of training with live fire, with participants showing at least 80% proficiency in the Wyoming Law Enforcement Academy’s close-range pistol proficiency course.
The measure also requires 24 hours of scenario-based training to replicate the mental, emotional and physical stress of an actual encounter, including de-escalation and verbal-control techniques. Applicants also must show 80% proficiency in that training, Eisenhauer said.
“It’s a very comprehensive list,” he said of the types of training educators would have to complete.
“That more than doubles the state requirement and we felt that was appropriate,” Eisenhauer added. “That’s more training than for a new (police) officer on the street.”
Recurring training of at least 24 hours also is required annually. That includes no less than 12 hours of live fire and 12 hours of scenario-based training.
The policy also requires school personnel in good standing to have at least five years of experience in the district. That’s another difference in policies approved in three other Wyoming school districts.
The Armed Educator Committee that drafted the proposal thought it was important for administrators to know and be familiar with whoever volunteers, qualifies for and is chosen as an armed educator, Eisenhauer said.
An armed educator can use his or her own handgun if approved by the trainer and if it meets requirements, Eisenhauer said.
“You guys did a great job,” Clouston said. “But why not make all the guns, holsters and bullets the same?”
He later asked if the trainer could evaluate and recommend firearms to be used by specific armed educators.
That drew the most board discussion of the evening.
“Most people who come to us have firearms they are comfortable with,” responded Human Resources Manager Larry Reznicek. “It’s very different on our end. No. 1, they have some ownership of that gun.”
“For me, it’s very important they use the gun they’re most comfortable with,” Ochs said. “I think allowing people to choose their own weapons is an OK thing.”
Bricker told the story of how she wanted a specific gun for her use and later decided it didn’t work for her, so her husband bought it from her.
“There’s that sweet gun that you might use and I think it’s important to that person. It’s like a glove,” she said.
Ochs also acknowledged how difficult it is for the district to consider this safety measure at all.
“This is a tough deal,” she said. “We have added over the last 10-15 years a lot of security measures. I’m so proud of this district that puts the safety of kids in the forefront. ... And our district is not going to stop looking at what we can do to make schools safer. This district is choosing to protect kids.”
Five speakers addressed the board during public comments before they had heard all of the elements in the policy.
Ochs said more public hearings will allow residents to speak out “if there’s any holes in what we’ve done so far. This would be a lot less expensive than hiring four resource officers.”
Karin Ebertz thanked the trustees for their approach and transparency in developing the proposal.
Justine Schuff said she also felt there was a gap in requiring psychological evaluations only every two years.
“I think there needs to be a way to bridge that gap,” she said.
Afterward, Schuff said she was glad the measure only included rural schools at this point.
“I like that they’re doing it in rural schools. That makes sense,” she said.
Thunder Basin High School student Mason Westervelt came to talk to the board about another matter. But once the debate team member heard comments on the armed educator policy, he asked for extra time to comment on that too, even though he hadn’t read the proposal beforehand.
“I don’t believe it’s the teacher’s job, that teachers have to protect their students,” he said. “Not only will teachers become a target (he used a California incident as an example), that’s what you’re going to see eventually, but we cannot prove that every teacher can do this.”