Natrona School District Trustees Eye Prevention, Safety Measures
The Natrona County School District has worked for nearly a decade on staff and student safety, but two recent incidents sharply focused what more could be done, trustees and the superintendent said during a work session before the regular biweekly board meeting Monday.
In early January, a member of the Kelly Walsh High School was waterboarded by fellow teammates, which the district later called an incident of "extreme bullying."
On Feb. 14, a 19-year-old man shot to death 17 students and staff at the Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School in Parkland, Fla., renewing debates about gun control and what can be done on the local school level.
Superintendent Steve Hopkins said the district has been working on these issues for nine years.
"The trustees have been having a conversation in the past several weeks, particularly about bullying, and we've had these unfortunate events that have occurred across the United States, and so the board just expanded the entire initiative (about) student and staff safety," Hopkins said after the work session.
Bullying is still a high priority, but keeping students safe from violence has joined that imperative, he said.
"We need to have a safe environment for students and staff. From that safe environment you can achieve the educational and academic goals that we have," Hopkins said. "Absent that, it's rather difficult to teach a child to read, do math or any of those kinds of things. They go hand in glove."
The district laid out its goals in a draft proposal, saying the board's leadership team, policy committee, academic steering committee and construction committee will receive reports about student and staff safety, legal requirements, the student code of conduct, employee expectations, and discipline procedures. Four district administrators will oversee the program.
The reviews of these reports will identify gaps in policies, and recommend training for student and staff safety. The board policy committee also will consider a policy about communicating with the public about incidents.
During the work session, trustee Dave Applegate floated ideas to deal with what he described as a "low probability, high impact" event such as a school shooting. Some ideas include how to better control access to buildings, identify potentially violent students, possibly install metal detectors, hire more resource officers, and incorporate preventative measures such as education about conflict resolution.
Allowing staff to be armed is a possibility, but that isn't enough, Applegate said. "I want to do something to make the targets less vulnerable."
Tom Ernst, one of the four administrators overseeing the project, said he met with Casper Fire-EMS officials who suggested installing a delay in the fire alarms. The gunman in Florida activated the fire alarm, which drew out students and staff. The last incident of a student dying in a fire was in 1958, he said.
Ernst suggested allowing staff to use less-than-lethal weapons such as bear spray, because not all staff would be comfortable with carrying a firearm.
He also met with Natrona County Sheriff's officials who suggested monitoring from an early age students who may exhibit anti-social behaviors.
Some trustees were open to allowing staff to be armed, saying school districts in Cody and Evanston are considering that option.
But that would require a lot of training, some said.
Hopkins later said state law puts that decision about allowing armed staff in the hands of the local school boards.
Any such decision would start with the board having conversation with the county residents, he said. If the board of trustees decides in favor of allowing staff to be armed, it would need to adopt a policy.
Trustee Clark Jensen said his son is a teacher who recently changed his mind about carrying a firearm after recent school shootings. However, Jensen didn't think it would be a good idea for schools to identify who is armed.
Toni Billings would like to see more preventative measures, she said. "Our kids are crying out for help."
After the discussion about school safety and before other business Monday, trustees heard Marykate Lacko, a fourth-grade student in the Mandarin Chinese language immersion program at Paradise Valley Elementary School, play ukulele and sing "Peng You," a song that means "friend."
Later, the board named Brian Doner as the principal of Centennial Junior High School. Doner currently serves as the principal of Cottonwood Elementary School.
The board also named Tyler Hartl as the Principal of Dean Morgan Junior High School. Hartl currently serves as the principal of Sagewood Elementary School.
The board set a public hearing at the Central Services Facility, 970 N. Glenn Road, at 7 p.m. Monday, March 12, to discuss the abandonment or sale of these school buildings and related facilities including portable classroom buildings: Grant Elementary; Mills Elementary; North Casper Elementary; and the Special Education Center.
The public hearing also will consider mothballing these school buildings and facilities: Mountain View Elementary; University Park; Willard Elementary; Westwood Elementary; and Willow Creek.