District hears both sides of gun debate

EVANSTON — The Uinta County School District No. 1 Board of Trustees heard from community members on Tuesday, Jan. 30, during a special public forum regarding proposed policy CKA, or the School Safety and Security Policy that would allow for concealed carry of firearms by district staff. About 20 people took the time to address the trustees, with about half voicing support for the policy, a quarter voicing opposition and another quarter asking clarifying questions and voicing concerns but not outright opposition. 

District superintendent Ryan Thomas said the draft policy has been revised since the previous school board meeting three weeks ago, and the latest draft is available on the district website for public viewing. 

Trustee Jenny Welling asked for clarification regarding what is meant by a “deep conceal,” which is what the policy requires for staff who would be approved to carry. Evanston Police Department Lt. Mike Vranish explained that a deep conceal means the weapon is not visible no matter what position a person is in, although it’s possible the outline would be visible for those looking closely. 

There was also some discussion about the level of training required for staff seeking approval to carry a gun. The policy as it currently reads calls for 16 hours of live-fire handgun training, eight hours of scenario-based training and completion of the Wyoming Law Enforcement Academy Close Range Pistol Proficiency Course at or above the 80-percent standard required of law enforcement trainees. 

The floor was opened for public comments on the policy, and two district teachers with opposing views were the first to speak. Teacher Ryan Berger said as a citizen and a parent, he doesn’t want to see guns in public settings, but as an educator he is in 100 percent agreement with the policy. He said as a teacher he would sign up and train and not take the responsibility lightly. Teacher Tyler Willis said as a parent and a district employee, he is 100 percent in opposition to the proposal.

“I think it’s extremely unlikely guns will ever be put to good use,” Willis said, “but what is unfortunately very likely is for it to be used by accident in a negative way.” 

Former district employee and current director of Hayden Peak Academy Josh Anderson asked numerous questions of the trustees and the committee, including about the costs that would be associated with implementing the policy. He too voiced concerns that firearms would be removed and left in bathrooms and wondered what the consequences would be if that were to happen, and he also said he believed confidentiality would be next to impossible to maintain and wondered what the ramifications would be for those who violated the confidentiality portion of the policy. 

Anderson referred to the I Love You Guys Foundation that has developed the standard response protocols used by the schools in the case of crises.

“I haven’t found anything to support this,” he said, “and the Standard Response Protocols used fall short all the time. There are some gaps there that should be considered prior to going to a whole other level of intervention.”

Thomas responded to the inquiries about costs and said the estimates for training were $1,400 and up per individual, while the psychological evaluations were around $1,000 each. However, Evanston High School Principal Merle Lester said the district has received numerous donations to help with the cost of training.

“We’ve had lots of support from around the country, enough that we can train everybody we want for free,” he said.

Lester specifically mentioned the Front Sight training program in Las Vegas, which offers a four-day program that he said he plans on taking. 

EHS teacher Bryce Strampe shared the results of a survey of high school students. With about 60 percent of students responding, about half of those said they were neutral about the policy, while a little more than a third said they would feel safer and 14 percent said they would feel less safe. 

Strampe had questions about the psychological exams, what they would entail and how often they would be repeated, if ever. 

Davis Middle School student council president Aidan McGuire said he had been speaking with students at that school about the proposal. He said it was about evenly split between those who supported the policy and those who opposed it, but that even those in favor said teachers should have more than the minimum required training and there should be strict rules in place regarding mismanagement of the privilege of carrying a gun. 

Wyoming State Rep. Garry Piiparinen, R-Evanston, spoke in favor of the policy and said people have a Constitutional God-given right to protect themselves.

“This is exactly what we envisioned in the Legislature and it’s nice to see it unfolding,” he said. 

Former EHS school resource officer Chris Brackin said he supports the policy and reflected back on his experience with the Cokeville hostage situation in 1986.

“I’m glad to hear the schools are going to make some changes to secure the schools,” he said.

He told the trustees that Sandy Hook Elementary was a secure school in terms of access, yet the shooter shot through the glass to gain entry anyway. He also said he believes having armed teachers would be a deterrent for potential attackers and told those present that there had already been 11 school shootings in 2018.

Uinta Meadows Elementary Principal Jerrod Dastrup said he could see both sides of the debate and said his biggest responsibility is to keep kids safe. He said his concerns were specifically with students in elementary schools.

“Our kids give hugs and they give high fives and we’re down on the carpet with them,” he said. 

Dastrup said he was concerned about the culture and morale at schools.

“I can’t tell you I think it’s the best thing to do,” he said, “to have kids seeing school as someplace teachers have to carry guns to keep them safe.”

Evanston residents Karl Allred, Scott Robinson, Nate Lester and Jason Hatch all spoke in favor of the policy. Hatch said he regularly carries a gun and his kids don’t feel threatened by it. He responded to Dastrup’s concerns by saying the elementary kids wouldn’t know that teachers were armed.

“Shooters are cowards,” he said, “and they choose places without guns.” 

Many who spoke in favor referred to Utah’s concealed carry policy for teachers that has been in place for several years, saying they felt this had been proven a deterrent in that state. 

EHS teacher Trudy Holt said she wanted to offer a female perspective. Holt said she grew up with guns, and she believes teachers should have the option to protect themselves and their students. 

Fellow EHS teacher Hayley Francom said she had been watching the meeting at home on YouTube and felt compelled to come in when she didn’t hear anybody reflecting her views. Francom said there is a time and place for guns, and she doesn’t believe school is that place. 

“We’re trained to teach students,” she said. “I haven’t been trained to shoot at one of them.” 

She said she would give her life for her students, but also, if this policy were to be in place, she didn’t believe she would teach anymore and she wouldn’t want her kids going to those schools. 

Evanston resident Mike Jacketta asked multiple questions of the board and the committee, including asking Lt. Vranish and EPD Chief Jon Kirby if law enforcement had determined this is the best option.

Kirby said his department would be supportive either way, but acknowledged that, of course, they had concerns and that the policy might need to be changed as they go along. Jacketta said if law enforcement is OK with it, it is easier for him to be OK with it. 

At the conclusion of the forum, Thomas said the plan is still to have the first reading and vote at the Feb. 13 board meeting, with a final vote scheduled for the March 13 meeting. In the meantime, the policy is available for review on the district’s website, where the public can also leave comments.


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