Board responses to public’s comments on gun rule continue

School district attorney Geoff Phillips participates in a school board discussion about public comments received regarding proposed rule CKA to allow teachers and other district staff to carry concealed firearms in the workplace. (HERALD PHOTO/Sheila McGuire)

EVANSTON — The lengthy work session of the Uinta County School District No. 1 Board of Trustees included several hours devoted entirely to discussing public comments received regarding proposed rule CKA to allow approved staff to carry concealed firearms in the workplace. Some of that discussion was detailed in the Tuesday, Feb. 5, edition of the Herald, while the remaining discussion is summarized here. 

Superintendent Ryan Thomas addressed social and emotional support programs for students and said every school in the district has a proactive behavior plan and program. He said the district has a responsibility to help parents raise their kids. “We do not let kids run amok. We have high standards and we uphold them,” said Thomas. 

Trustee Kay Fackrell said every staff member goes through training on bullying and harassment and there are programs at every school to help identify and work with at-risk kids. Fackrell said he is upset by comments claiming the district doesn’t do enough to address social and emotional issues because, even during periods of declining enrollment and budget cuts, the district has not decreased counseling staff, social workers or psychologists. 

Board chair Jami Brackin said there had been lots of questions about what would happen if there were an accident or mishandling of a firearm. She said she had done some research into the number of accidents or incidents related to guns in schools and said, “I don’t know that statistics support the global assumption, if you can call it that, that accidents will happen.”

Addressing the possibility of a teacher mishandling a weapon, Thomas said, “The policy is very clear. A weapon is never to be visible throughout the day. Other than in the case of imminent death or severe bodily harm, the gun is never to be touched. Law enforcement was instrumental in helping design that part. Every time a gun is touched there is a potential for injury, so don’t touch it.” 

Trustee Cassie Torres said she has researched policies in other states and policies in some are very clear that every other means must be used prior to resorting to using a firearm. She said the district’s rule is very short and concise on the use of force and she thinks they should consider making it very explicit. 

Phillips said he also had a couple of recommendations he would like the board to consider in terms of changing the rule as it’s currently written. One of the suggestions deals with a clause in the rule that would require someone approved to carry to commit to doing so for a minimum of one year. Phillips said he doesn’t think that clause is necessary and is concerned it could create a liability issue. “There are lots of reasons an employee may not be able to continue to participate in the program and in some cases it could be dangerous to require an employee to participate.” 

Phillips said he would also like to clean up some redundancies in the rule regarding penalties for violation, as currently there is an area of penalties for violating confidentiality and then another section with penalties for violating any part of the rule. He said he thinks it would be better to keep a penalty section broadly applicable to any violations of any part of the rule. 

Turning to the issue of Constitutional rights of parents, teachers and students, especially as it relates to the confidentiality clause of the rule, Brackin said the Wyoming statute allowing school districts to create rules regarding concealed carry necessitates confidentiality and the district cannot violate that for parents who do not want their children in classrooms with firearms.  

Phillips said he didn’t think the legislature anticipated this problem of certain parents or students not wanting to be in classrooms with guns, but said, “If there is a Constitutional claim that the statute violates rights, then that’s a responsibility of the attorney general’s office and is not something we would be directly responsible for.” 

Thomas said he can understand parents wanting to request an armed or an unarmed teacher, but the district cannot identify those who are carrying. “The only thing we could say is you’re going to have to home school, and that is not coming out of our mouths,” he said. In terms of teacher rights, Thomas said teachers were never told they couldn’t express their opinions on the rule; however, they cannot communicate whether or not they are carrying. 

The discussion about parental and teacher rights led to a discussion about discord in the district and teachers feeling as if they cannot speak up and voice their concerns. Trustee Tammy Walker said comments about teachers feeling afraid really bother her, which was echoed by Torres. Brackin said the board absolutely does want teacher comments on important issues.

Fackrell said he’s worked in the district for a long time and there is discord about everything. “For teachers who use that excuse, they’ve used it for 32 years. I don’t want to make light of this because I know this is a big deal. But some of them say the same thing no matter what they’re asked to do. They say, ‘I’m afraid to talk about it or I might get fired.’ Bull. That’s their copout and that’s their copout for everything they’re asked to do.” 

Trustee Jenny Welling said comments from teachers are valuable, but she believes the majority of the community supports the proposed rule. Torres, however, pointed out that on last year’s survey 49 percent of teachers and 53 percent of the public supported it, while in the comments received this time 70 percent of them opposed the rule. 

Trustee Dave Bennett said he is unconcerned with the numbers because it’s Wyoming where the Second Amendment is very important. Walker said, “The recent numbers I didn’t even consider. . . It was not a surprise to me that there were more against it this time because that was the group that propelled us here.” Brackin also said, “For me it’s no longer about the numbers per se. . . At this point in time it’s not necessarily about what the community wants. If they don’t like it, they’ll tell you come the next election.” 

Finally, Brackin went back to discussing data and evidence. She said she had researched statistics from the FBI in a 2013 report. She said that report examined approximately 140 mass shootings, of which 21 were stopped by an unarmed individual who intervened and 5 stopped by an armed person. She said to claim there is no evidence to support the notion that arming teachers is a good idea is disingenuous because the FBI study does support the claim that armed people have stopped active shooters. 

Thomas said many people have asked why the district doesn’t hire more school resource officers instead of arming teachers. “That’s not on the district’s end, but on the city’s end,” he said. “It’s not an option for us to hire additional SROs or we would have done it.” Thomas said funding isn’t the problem, but law enforcement has indicated there are simply not enough additional officers in the community to fill more SRO positions. 

In closing out the discussion, Walker said she wants the community to know how difficult this process has been. “On a very raw, human level, this has not been easy when you have people close to you, people you respect and prominent members of the community who completely disagree with something you agree with.” Brackin said, “Many who spoke in opposition I consider to be friends of mine and I want to keep it that way. We have places to consider changes and if we decide to adopt this rule, hopefully it will be even better.” 

Thomas said administration will work on compiling all discussion and responses into a book and will present that, as well as any changes to the rule, to the board in March, with a plan to vote on the rule at the regular meeting on April 9. 

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