By Clair McFarland, Cowboy State Daily
Fremont County’s largest school district is contemplating a policy to let school staff carry concealed firearms.
The board for Fremont County School District 25 met with the public in Riverton on Wednesday morning to discuss the proposed policy and its many factors.
While some in the community lauded the idea, others said arming teachers is fraught with troubling complications.
“If there’s any state where you’ll find the most qualified people as employees to be involved with this, this is the state,” said Cindy McDonald, a mother and an employee with the school district.
McDonald said she has spoken with parents in Cody, where Park County School District 6 has a concealed-carry policy in effect, and a board member in Lander, where the district allows staff to carry. She said her impressions from those conversations have been positive.
McDonald also heard from her teenage daughter on how she’d feel in the event of a school shooting.
“She said, ‘I’d feel 150% safer knowing that maybe even the teacher in the next room can jump at the chance if they have to,’” McDonald said. “Unfortunately, it’s that kind of world. It’s not a pretty world; it’s not a perfect world. We have a lot of messes going on and we have to rise to the occasion.”
McDonald later clarified that she respects detractors’ concerns and believes the policy should be crafted with care.
What About Accidents?
Another mother, Gwenith Walchter, told the board she opposes the policy and fears unforeseen consequences.
She said she hesitated to speak publicly on the issue because she’s not anti-gun and she doesn’t want to give that impression.
“I don’t think it’s a great idea to throw guns into the school. You could have accidents, accidental shootings,” said Walchter, adding that sometimes even “really qualified police officers” discharge their firearms accidentally.
Walchter hoped the board would watch other schools with conceal-carry policies for a while to gather more information.
School Board Weighs In
Board chair Lynette Jeffres noted that concealed-carry policies in other Wyoming school districts that have them are “fairly new.”
Uinta County School District 1 in Evanston enacted its policy in 2019
But if the policy were enacted, she said, Riverton school authorities would have teachers who wanted to carry go through an approval process, and would know which teachers were carrying.
Walchter also was concerned about what might happen if a gun-carrying teacher “lost it,” or snapped mentally, while at school.
She added that one of her children is very young and has autism.
Jody Ray, vice-chair of the board, said the panel is not taking lightly its duty to craft a thoughtful policy.
“This is a very serious thought process, and we’re being very methodical about it so we can determine the best thing for our district,” said Ray.
The policy would not permit students to be armed at school.
Abbigail Vaughn, a district employee working in administration, expressed unease with the policy, though she said she trusts the elected board to make the right decision.
Like Walchter, Vaughn said she has a son who has struggled with mental health issues.
“We talked about teachers who could be easily aggravated by a student – I have that student,” said Vaughn.
She said police should be very familiar with all the teachers who are carrying so that they would not get confused in an active-shooter situation.
Police In Favor
Kirbie DeSpain, a mother and a librarian in Riverton, said she’s on the fence about the policy and asked how local police feel about it.
Superintendent JoAnne Flanagan said she couldn’t speak for law enforcement ultimately, but in conversations with the district, they have been in favor of the policy, “with significant caveats.”
In a later phone call with Cowboy State Daily, Riverton Police Department Chief Eric Murphy said he is “totally in favor” of a conceal-carry policy at the school, but emphasized that approved carriers should be properly trained either through the police department or the state’s conceal-carry classes.
“I am not OK with just a teacher carrying (a gun) because they decide they want to,” he said.
Murphy said the sergeant overseeing school resource officers, Charlie Marshall, has expressed his support as well.
Murphy said RPD is willing to work with permitted carriers as much as needed.
“The Riverton Police Department can’t be everywhere all the time, and if we have an active shooter at a school, I would much rather have a teacher be armed up there than to have the whole school wait for us to respond,” he said.
‘Very Serious Mindset’
Terry Cantrell, of Riverton, said he worked for the district before retiring and knows that there are well-qualified teachers and staff within it.
“Shooting another person (takes) a very serious mindset. And if you can deescalate the situation and whatnot, that’s (even) more important,” he said, adding that teachers are specially trained in nonviolent conflict resolution for the sake of students, and so may be equipped to think deliberately before opening fire on an active shooter.