GILLETTE — Local school trustees reached a consensus this week to go ahead with an armed educator policy, but the direction is anything but clear.
Trustees on Tuesday were split on whether to allow armed staff in all schools with about half of them agreeing with the idea and half favoring other options.
“I think the beauty of an elected board is that we all come together with our different backgrounds, which will occasionally bring a difference of opinion,” Campbell County School District trustee Lisa Durgin said Wednesday. “I don’t feel our board was truly split on the ideas of arming staff in schools. We are still working out what this will or will not look like.”
Trustees want to have more discussions on the issue.
One thing they agree on is putting into place a rule to arm educators at rural schools because it would take law enforcement too much time to respond to a potential emergency.
The bone of contention is whether Gillette schools should arm educators in all schools.
For some, it’s a necessary response to today’s society.
With an increasing number of mass shootings across the country, the district needs to be proactive despite the job it has done in implementing safety measures, Trustee Joe Lawrence said at a Tuesday school board meeting.
“Bottom line is, we are here to protect our students,” he said.
Trustee Linda Bricker agreed.
“We have to take these changes in our world very seriously,” she said. “We live in a different world. We have to change the way we do things.”
Trustee David Foreman said he is against arming educators in Gillette schools because various national educational associations, like the National Education Association and the U.S. Department of Education, oppose the idea.
Durgin said she was on the fence until she had more information.
Instead of arming staff in Gillette, some trustees suggested the district examine all options.
Ken Clouston said he would prefer not to arm staff in Gillette schools. Instead, he wants the district to look at hiring more school resource officers.
There are now four SROs, one at Campbell County High School, one at Thunder Basin High School, one at Wright Jr./Sr. High School and one who is shared between Sage Valley and Twin Spruce junior high schools.
“That would the be the most amazing situation we can have because these men and women are trained for this,” Bricker said. “We’ve got to be prepared no matter what we do.”
It’s difficult for the city to hire additional police staff and get them trained in a short period of time, but the district will continue to explore the issue. In the meantime, the board is directing administrators to work with city officials to add four more school resource officers. They would split the costs.
If the city is unable to accommodate the request, the district could shift its focus to the Campbell County Sheriff’s Office, or both agencies can work together, Chairwoman Anne Ochs said.
Trustee Toni Bell said she agrees with having more SROs, but the district should be realistic about the costs of hiring them. She said while she does not advocate arming educators, schools should look at training their staff as SROs.
On Tuesday, Ochs presented a list of options that could be presented to the public for a possible first hearing. They include:
Arming staff across the district;
Arming rural schools;
Poviding school resource officers for the high schools, junior highs and elementary schools, and
Allowing schools to train employees as their own school resource officers.
The policy needs to cover every angle the district can consider, like determining who would be eligible to carry a gun, she said.
“I think as the process continues, we will no doubt come to an agreement on what will be best for the district as a whole, whether it is enacting a new policy or not,” Durgin said.