Legislators, school officials ponder safety issues in Idaho schools
Gun control has become a hot-button issue following the shooting at Sandy Hook Elementary in Connecticut.
“I have no doubt that there will be plenty of discussion, and likely legislation, to address these issues,” says Rep. John Rusche, D-Lewiston, in response to the killings Dec. 14 at a Connecticut grade school that left 20 children and six staff members dead. The shooter also took his own life.
In Idaho, some state and community leaders agree that there is a need for better school security. Yet the idea of armed security and firearms on school grounds remains a subject of broad debate.
“Our school district works in cooperation with the first responders in the valley regarding emergency procedures,” said Dr. Bruce Gestrin, assistant superintendent of the Meridian School District. He told IdahoReporter.com that the district has emergency plans in place, but that the district needs to “learn and adjust from situations that occur locally and nationally.”
Laura Rumpler, spokesperson for the Coeur d’Alene public schools, reports similar details. “We’ve had a School Emergency Response Plan in place for over 10 years,” she told IdahoReporter.com, and notes that her district just conducted a “practice lockdown drill,” which included a school shooter exercise. “After the Connecticut shootings, we met with the Coeur d’Alene chief of police and the Kootenai County sheriff to consider how we can improve our plan.”
“It seems to me we’ve got three broad choices,” says Sen. Steve Thayn, R-Emmett. “We can pursue more gun control as the president is doing, and that’s not an option for us; we can place additional security officers on campuses; or we can empower the existing personnel in local districts.” Thayn maintains that the third option is the better choice, both for security and cost effectiveness purposes.
Rusche wants to see what the Obama administration recommends and if it has application in Idaho. “Do we need armed security in schools? I don’t know,” he says. He notes, however, that he’s more interested in improving physical security at schools, and suggests that schools might adopt security check points, similar to those used in the entrances of hospitals and some governmental buildings.
Karen Echeverria, executive director of the Idaho School Boards Association, acknowledges Rusche’s concerns. “Local law enforcement professionals have serious concerns about teachers carrying weapons into the classroom,” she tells IdahoReporter.com. She says that while some Idaho school buildings are quite new, others are a hundred years old, and suggests that enhancing structural security would be an appropriate response. “Our national school boards association is providing a webinar on this issue to members nationwide,” she noted. “I think a much-needed dialog on the matter is under way.”
Both Rusche and Thayn, along with school district officials Rumpler and Gestrin, point out that increasing school security will likely be costly, and educational dollars are already in short supply.
“As a pediatrician, I’ve counseled children on gun safety matters, so I know firsthand how serious this matter is,” Rusche says. “Yet our state budgets are already tight, so we need to choose our next options very carefully.”
Following the shootings, President Barack Obama has called for more restrictions on gun sales and possession of certain types of firearms. He has appointed Vice President Joe Biden to head a panel on curbing gun violence.
In the U.S. Senate, Barbara Boxer, D-California, has proposed that National Guard troops be assigned to guard American public schools and Diane Feinstein, D-California, has called for a “ban on assault weapons.”
Sen. Mike Crapo, R-Idaho, has noted that “true assault weapons are already banned,” and has called instead for greater emphasis on proper mental health care.
At the state level, two governors, Virginia’s Bob McDonnell and Rick Perry of Texas, have voiced support for teachers being permitted to carry concealed weapons in classrooms.