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75% of Campbell County School District's survey respondents support arming school staff

GILLETTE — Three out of four people who responded to a monthlong public survey from the Campbell County School District are in favor of arming certain school staff, but the discussion is far from over.

Deputy Superintendent Kirby Eisenhauer presented the survey results to the school board at its meeting Wednesday night.

Overall, 1,249 people responded to the survey in the month of June and 76%, or 945, said they support allowing select school staff to carry guns. There were 231, or 18.5%, against it, and about 6% said they need more information.

A survey of school district staff also found support for arming teachers, although not as many were in favor of it. There were 533 employees, or 58%, who were for it, while 196 were against it and 187 felt they needed more information.

The surveys were meant to gauge where the community and staff stand on the issue, Eisenhauer said.

School Board Chairwoman Anne Ochs pointed out that when the Campbell County Chamber of Commerce surveyed the public last year on how it wants Optional 1% Sales Tax money to be spent, school safety ranked high on the list of priorities. Commissioners then used some of the 1% to fund a few more school resource officers for the district’s rural schools.

Ochs said she plans to talk with the city of Gillette about the possibility of hiring more school resource officers for schools in city limits.

Trustees Lisa Durgin and Toni Bell suggested compiling a list of commonly asked questions, coming up with answers and putting it on the school district’s website.

“This is the information people want in order to make their decisions,” Durgin said, adding that the discussion will be much more productive if everyone comes to the table with the same information as opposed to rumors and opinions.

Ochs said the board is working hard to not make this into “a winners versus losers situation.”

“We’re not on two sides,” Durgin said. “We’re on one side: the kids’ side.”

Trustee Ken Clouston said he’s wavered on the issue the last couple of years and he appreciates the public input.

“I don’t think anybody wants to arm people in schools, but in some places they see that as the only option,” he said.

Residents also spoke at Wednesday’s meeting. Justine Schuff, a parent and a former school counselor, said that arming teachers could be devastating for Gillette’s efforts to diversify its economy.

“(It would) seriously hinder the amount of businesses, parents and educators who would consider coming to live and work in our community,” she said, citing a national study that said 73% of educators and 63% of parents oppose arming teachers.

“This will hurt our local school district by forcing families to homeschool, relocate or seek private education,” Schuff said. “My kids would be included in this. I won’t send them to a school that arms teachers.”

Alex Bredthauer said he has two children who will be attending school soon.

“I want to know you are doing everything possible to defend them. I want to know that you trust your teachers to defend my children,” he said. “If you can’t trust your teachers to defend my kids, why should I trust them to be in schools with them?”

He said the people in favor of arming school staff are the staff themselves and law enforcement, the people who would be responding to an active shooter situation.

Former art teacher Chris Amend said he’s “adamantly against arming teachers,” and that if there had been an active shooting when he was teaching, “my job is to be between my students and the shooter.”

Jason Hawk, a teacher at a rural school and a firearms instructor, said that it’s possible no one in the district will meet the standard for carrying a gun.

“The fact that we have a possibility for our staff to be armed is a deterrent for someone who is looking to do harm toward our students,” he said.

The community “dodged a figurative and literal bullet” with a November Sage Valley situation, he said, but it can’t expect that to be happen every time.

“How would that situation have turned out better if there had been a gun?” Jennifer Carroll asked. “How would it have turned out better if there had been an armed teacher that day?”

“That student was failed over and over by systems that were meant to protect him,” she said. “The district failed to protect that boy.”

Leigh Jacobs, who has three kids in the school district, said she was discouraged because she felt like there was “a lot of momentum for teachers being armed.”

“I think you have been taking it seriously, you have been thinking about it,” she told the school board. “There’s just so much more we can do before giving guns to people in schools.”

She said it’s unfair to ask the school board to make this decision when “our lawmakers should be making laws that protect us as a whole.”

“I don’t envy the position that you’re in,” Jacobs said.

“It’s a tough position,” Ochs said. “But it’s what we all signed up for.”