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News >  Idaho

Schools chief defends arming staffers

By Mary Stone Lewiston Tribune

Some details remain to be honed as a new policy allowing trained staff members to carry firearms in schools is rolled out, Mountain View School District Superintendent Kent Stokes said.

But after many months of editing and debate, Stokes said, the policy approved by the school board Monday is solid.

“The pros and cons have been discussed and discussed and discussed,” he said. “I think we have a good policy.”

The next step, he said, is a “quite extensive vetting” of any staff members at the district’s schools who are interested in volunteering for the program. The Mountain View district has schools in Kooskia, Grangeville and Elk City.

The new rule allows staff members who elect to be trained as “district security officers” to “act as the initial line of defense in the case of a violent emergency (that) threatens the safety and security of district students and staff.”

The policy differs from one established a few years ago by the Garden Valley School District in rural Boise County, which allows rifles to be kept in locked safes inside its schools. Mountain View’s policy provides for guns in lockboxes, but also allows approved employees to carry a concealed firearm.

That’s where the measure’s lone dissenter said he saw possible problems.

Board member Jeremy Harris of Grangeville cast a no vote Monday. Board member Mike Dominguez, who drafted the initial proposal, was joined by Rebecca Warden, Casey Smith and Lot Smith in supporting the policy.

Harris said he was in favor of the notion of allowing lockboxes for firearms in the district’s schools, but he’s not convinced his constituents supported concealed carry by school staff members.

He said he heard more opposition than support from constituents in his zone of the district, comprised of the area at the south end of Grangeville.

“Kids typically can get their hands on anything,” Harris said. “And as much as teachers are responsible, a gun that ends up in a desk, briefcase or purse … that gun would be safer in a lockbox.”

Nor did he see overwhelming support from teachers.

“One thing we did as a board is we utilized the union to survey administrators and teachers to get their feelings on the gun policy,” Harris said. “Approximately half were for and half were against, so obviously that was difficult – that no matter what outcome there was it was nearly impossible to please everyone.”

Stokes said he heard some negative response to the proposal, too, but “overall I think people are mostly in favor of it.”

As for how many school district employees might be interested in carrying a gun, Stokes said time will tell.

“I don’t know if there will be a lot or if there will be just a few. I have no idea.”

Employees who apply to carry guns will receive 40 to 48 hours of training through the Idaho County Sheriff’s Department, following a curriculum from the Idaho Peace Officer Standards and Training, Sheriff Doug Giddings said.

Only staff members who volunteer for the program and are comfortable and experienced with handling weapons will be approved for the training, Giddings said.

“I would guess it would be people who carry guns and use guns all the time. This isn’t an experiment where you take new people and put them with a gun on campus.”

Stokes said the policy “isn’t very aggressive.”

“We don’t want guns being shown in school,” he said. “It’s going to be very low key, and hopefully we’ll never have to test the policy – I just pray for that.”

He predicted the district will use the lockbox option more than concealed carry.

Either way, Giddings said, local law enforcement sees the measure as a deterrent, making anyone who might target a school think twice.

“The whole idea is you’ll never need it.”

Having firearms available for a worst-case scenario is smart though, Giddings said, invoking the old saying “never bring a knife to a gunfight.”

And in an 8,500-square-mile county, having a way to fight back until law enforcement arrives could be the difference between life and death.

“If it did happen and a bunch of kids got killed because nobody had a gun to defend them, people would be really, really sad,” Giddings said.

Harris said his concerns remain about students’ proximity to firearms if staff members are carrying.

“That’s just something that we can’t go back on,” he said of a potential incident involving a child gaining access to a staff member’s gun. “We don’t get a second chance on that.”

But he emphasized his respect for his fellow board members, local law enforcement – and the policy that now stands.

“I understand that I’m one of five,” Harris said. “I feel that I have to support the board.”

The policy can be viewed on the school district’s website at http://tinyurl.com/hhdltrr.

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