Working to keep students safe

Officers Jacob Ohnstad and Officer Elizabeth Smith stand Thursday afternoon on the front staircase at Laramie High School.

SHANNON BRODERICK/Boomerang photographer

In the wake of the Feb. 14 shooting at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School in Parkland, Florida, people throughout the U.S. are discussing what could be done to better protect everyone in the nation’s schools.

Laramie Youth Council Chief Financial Officer Hannah Johnson said it is important for students to talk about these shootings because it could help prevent this from happening again.

“We need to know how to stay safe in school and, if it happens, how to prevent such things from happening in the future,” Johnson said. “I feel like taking the knowledge from the victims, families and other high schoolers who were injured and … apply it to how we train professionals at our schools may help.”

One solution is to have stricter gun control laws to make it harder for people to get weapons, Johnson said.

“I feel like that if we adjust the laws so at least certain guns that are high powered don’t get sold in certain places or you have to be over a certain age to do that,” she said. “With our knowledge about what happened in previous school shootings — like Columbine and the Florida shooting — we can probably help prevent those from happening in the future, or at least reduce the number of those happening to a miniscule amount.”

Albany County School District No. 1 Superintendent Jubal Yennie said in recent years, the district’s schools has expanded security measures by placing increased video surveillance and buzz-in systems at schools and having police officers come into the schools. The increase in security is part of the district’s plan to prevent incidents at schools, he said.

“Parents need to be reminded that the safety of their kids is paramount in our minds,” Yennie said. “We have video and buzz-in systems at every place, and from that standpoint, and what I heard initially was this is inconvenient, but I think people understand the inconvenience is secondary to making sure the building is secure.”

To make sure schools are prepared for an emergency situation, students, teachers and other school officials work with the Laramie Police Department to conduct lock-down drills to show students what they should do in this type of situation, he said. The training also reinforces safety protocols such as making sure doors are locked and students report suspicious activity, Yennie said.

“We know that the best way to provide prevention for any kind of accident is to make sure you have your safety belt on,” he said. “If students, teachers, parents or anybody find that something doesn’t seem to be quite the way we say it is, let somebody know because oftentimes when you are in a community, people know when something is askew.”

Yennie said he thinks a bill was passed last year in the Wyoming Legislature that allowed teachers to have firearms in schools but, they are currently not allowed to in ACSD No. 1 schools at this time.

“The school district has the option to allow guns in schools but it hasn’t been brought up for discussion yet,” he said.

Laramie Police Department patrol officer and school resource officer Elizabeth Smith said she and patrol officer and school resource officer Jacob Ohnstad spend several hours a week at different schools and often work with them in drills to prepare the school in case there is an emergency.

“We work hand-in-hand with the administrators at each school as well as the people over at the central office in ways to train their teachers and trying to implement their safety procedures as much as possible,” Smith said.

Ohnstad said students are crucial for making sure schools are safe because they are the ones who would know if something were wrong. If students report any breaches in security and take the drills the police department offers seriously, then the school district would be better prepared to prevent a shooter situation there, he said.

“School safety starts with the students,” Ohnstad said. “We teach them to report stuff and it is very important for the process. Obviously, there are a lot more students in these buildings than there are teachers but if something bad were to happen, I think students would be the first to see it.”

Yennie said the school district does not plan in joining a walk out protesting gun violence in schools March 14 because it occurs during spring break, but they would support the concept of a walkout on April 20, the 19th anniversary of the Columbine High School Massacre.

“We would support that to the extent of the concept,” he said. “The logistics of a whole district walkout where we just turn kindergarteners out into the street, I don’t think the folks that thought that up quite thought that far down, so the reality is we will work from the stand point of supporting the concept.”

Smith said anyone interested in learning more about the school district’s response can go to to learn more about the protocols.

“The ‘I Love You Guys’ foundation was created by a man who lost his daughter in an active shooter situation,” She said. “The standard response protocol, you can find this all on their website, that is what we are teaching to all the schools in Laramie.”

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