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Riverton Schools Consider Conceal-Carry Policy; Police Department Says Yes With Proper Training

in Guns/News/Education
Photo by Clair McFarland, Cowboy State Daily

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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. 

Mother Approves 

“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.  

Kirby DeSpain, left, is a mother and librarian in Riverton who told the Fremont County School District 25 board Wednesday that she’s on the fence about a concealed-carry policy for teachers. Gwenith Walchter, right, said she’s not “anti-gun,” but opposes the policy over concerns, like the potential for teachers to snap mentally. (Clair McFarland, Cowboy State Daily)

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.    

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Four Wyoming school districts approve policies allowing teachers to arm themselves

in News/Education
Arming teachers

By Ike Fredregill, Cowboy State Daily

Of the 48 school districts in Wyoming, four have adopted policies allowing staff to carry firearms on school district property, and a fifth district is considering the option.

Following the state’s adoption of a bill in 2017 giving school districts the authority to arm teachers, school districts in Evanston, Ten Sleep, Lander and Cody approved firearms policies, said Brian Farmer, Wyoming School Board Association’s executive director. Campbell County School District No. 1 in Gillette is considering policy options for allowing teachers to carry firearms, but Farmer said tracking which school boards are examining the idea is challenging.

“It’s difficult to say who’s considering, because nobody maintains a list of who’s having discussions or has had one,” he explained.

The Wyoming Department of Education does not keep a tally on which school districts approve firearms policies and declined requests for an interview on the topic, referring instead to a blanket statement in its School Safety and Security manual.

“We all know that keeping our students safe is our No. 1 responsibility as education leaders, but securing a safe environment looks different in each school and district,” Wyoming Superintendent of Public Instruction Jillian Balow says in the manual. “While the Department of Education does not have rule-making authority related to this law, we felt it would be beneficial to work with interested stakeholders to answer any questions the new law presents.” 

Farmer said his association worked with the department to create a manual for guidance on the topic, but the association’s official preferred method of increasing security is using school resource officers.

“We’ve offered a uniform (firearms) policy that districts can use as guidance as part of our policy service,” he said. 

Through the service, school boards can receive basic policy framework, written within the confines of state statute, then tailor the policy to the district’s needs.

“All of this only leads to the point where staff may carry — it doesn’t put guns in the hands of every staff member,” Farmer said. “The decision for a local district to adopt the staff authorization for the use of firearms really does require a conversation with the community.”

Community is a broad term and does not apply solely to the parents of students, he added. 

“If you look at the statute, community isn’t just one entity,” Farmer said. “It includes law enforcement, school staff, parents and the community at large.”

Even after the polling the community and creating a policy, problems can arise.In the case of Evanston’s Uinta County School District No. 1, local residents sued the district in 2018 over its policy creation process and sued it again in August, questioning whether the policy itself violates the Wyoming Constitution.

“In Evanston, the board, and therefore, the school district, is dedicated to the implementation of the policy,” Farmer said. “The district has essentially said, ‘If we need to go back and fix more, we will.’”

The lawsuits could stall other school districts considering firearms policies.

“It’s very difficult to say whether or not it does have an impact,” Farmer said. “But, we have heard some (school board members) wanted to wait to see how the lawsuit played out.”

For Campbell County, adopting a firearms policy is just one of the options on the table, said Alex Ayers, superintendent of Campbell County School District No. 1.

“The only decision (the Campbell County School District No. 1 school board) made is they would like to see a policy,” Ayers explained. “They’ve talked about four options, and the first is do nothing.”

The other options include adding up to four more school resource officers, adopting a policy permitting teachers to arm themselves or combining the two.

“Safety and security is the primary concern,” Ayers said. “I wouldn’t say there is higher risk (for school shootings) in Gillette, but I do think we have an obligation in the interest of safety to have conversations … about additional measures.”

In 2018, a 14-year-old student brought two handguns to school in Gillette and threatened another student and staff, which might factor into the school board’s final decision, but Ayers said the policy conversation started before the incident.

“We certainly know it’s not probable that we could have an event such as an active shooter,” he said. “But it is possible, and those transparent, open conversations about options are normal.”

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