(GAZETTE GRAPHIC / Theresa Davis)
On Thursday, June 21, Lincoln County School District No. 1 held a work session at the administration building to discuss school safety.
All school board members were present, along with LCSD No.1 superintendent Teresa Chaulk, KES principal Shawn Rogers and KJSHS principal Orlen Zempel. NFHS principal Dave Gardner was present for some of the meeting.
Chaulk and the school board discussed several aspects of school safety, including access points for staff, students and visitors, preparing for emergency situations, and the hot-button topic of teachers and guns in schools.
“Training and increasing awareness are the big things we need to do for our staff,” Chaulk said.
At the close of the meeting, Rogers voiced his opinion on school safety.
“I feel safe in Kemmerer. I don’t think we have a problem, but we can’t put our heads in the sand,” Rogers said. “I think we need a balance, where we have protection if we need it.”
Chaulk and the principals discussed the safety of their individual campuses, including potential improvements.
Kemmerer Elementary School
Any changes to the Kemmerer Elementary School campus are on hold until the district knows for sure whether the campus will still be operational or if KES will be combined into the Canyon Elementary School.
Rogers said parents of KES students know that they have to be let in by a secretary during the school day.
“They know they may have to wait a little, but they’re glad these doors are locked,” Rogers said.
The board members acknowledged that some parents and community members would want to see their child immediately in an emergency, even if that conflicts with the lockdown procedures.
“We have to accept a level of frustration from parents or the community in that situation because we know that what we do is keeping students safe,” said board member Brenda McGinnis.
Chaulk agreed that the district does its best to educate parents about safety procedures, but when emergencies occur, they still can’t make exceptions.
“Convenience and safety don’t go together,” Chaulk said.
Rogers did talk about a security problem with the KES playground.
“There’s no fence, so we really have no control of who visits there,” Rogers said.
Canyon Elementary School
The main discussion topic about safety at Canyon Elementary School was how to control access after hours when visitors are present for events like Junior Jazz, or using the locker rooms and restrooms during football games and track meets.
Chaulk said the district has a goal to purchase security cameras for surveillance of the lower playground and football field area.
She also mentioned that the school has coded key fobs that can trace who had access to what part of the campus at a specific time.
Kemmerer Junior Senior High School
KJSHS principal Orlen Zempel said the school would be willing to increase security at the doors that the high school students enter in the morning.
“Or one possibility is to lock all doors all the time and have everyone enter through the front,” Zempel said.
The group discussed the possibility that threats could come from individuals inside the school, as has been the case in several school shootings across the country.
“A lot of times it’s not just about access — it’s about knowing our students,” Chaulk said. “It’s about being aware. There’s no excuse to ignore signs, and we need to have our staff trained to read those warning signs in their students.”
Zempel assured the board that the KJSHS staff monitors their students for warning signs of dangerous behavior. Zempel also said students are encouraged to report any concerns to an adult at the school. He said the small size of the school enhances the staff’s ability to recognize when something was wrong with a student.
Chaulk said in the case of an emergency, staff needs to be trained to handle a situation for 0-5 minutes; after that time frame, law enforcement is typically able to take over.
“The biggest thing in these situations is communication,” said School Board chairman Don Lamborn. “That means communicating with law enforcement and the community.”
“In a small community, it’s about how we control the situation to prevent panic,” Rogers said. “I think that’s why we need to prepare for a variety of situations.”
Chaulk said the district would continue to update their training and district emergency plan.
Teachers and Guns
After discussing the safety of individual campuses and the district’s emergency plan, the group moved on to talking about guns in schools.
In March of 2017, the Wyoming State Legislature passed HB0194, authorizing individual school districts to create policies allowing teachers to carry concealed weapons on school property. Gov. Matt Mead signed the bill into law.
Two school districts in Wyoming have approved policies allowing school staff to carry concealed weapons: Park County School District No. 6 and Uinta County School District No. 1.
“I do not agree with arming all teachers or opening it up to whoever wants to get trained,” Chaulk said.
The board members also discussed the potential pyschological effect for teachers who carry weapons, and therefore take upon themselves the safety of the school.
“To put that kind of pressure on a teacher when trained law enforcement officers still make mistakes — I can’t even imagine that,” McGinnis said.
The group discussed the potential for a gun in a lockbox on each campus as a compromise. The weapon would only be able to be accessed by a very small number of staff in case of emergencies.
Zempel said in this case the presence of a gun on campus may act as a deterrent for potential threats.
The board asked Chaulk to look into the potential liability of a weapon on campus.
Board member Bob Peternal chimed in.“I’d be interested to hear Sheriff Johnson’s opinion on this,” Peternal said.
The other meeting attendees agreed that school staff and local law enforcement need to be on the same page.
“We can’t make everybody happy, but we can keep everybody as safe as we can,” Hunter said.
Chaulk and the board agreed that they would involve the community and address potential concerns in order to avoid the confusion seen in Uinta County School District No. 1 in Evanston.
“This is too big of a step to not involve the community,” McGinnis said.
Chaulk said she would advise the district that it would be wise to have a clear policy on the books about guns in schools, regardless of what the school board and the community decide.
The next school board meeting is on Wednesday, July 18, at 7:00 p.m. at the administration building. The budget hearing for LCSD No. 1 will be held at 6:00 p.m.