GRANGEVILLE Twenty-two people sat in the Grangeville Elementary Middle School Community Room Thursday evening, Feb. 2, to discuss a policy that will affect the more than 570 students at GEMS.
“This is a very delicate subject and, frankly, I have been surprised that more people in our communities have not come to meetings about this,” said Mountain View School District 244 trustee Jeremy Harris of Grangeville.
Harris, along with board chair Mike Dominguez of Kooskia, attended the GEMS PTA meeting to discuss and answer questions on the MVSD Use of Force Policy that is in its fourth reading.
As background, Dominguez explained why he initially brought a draft policy to the board going on two years ago.
“It was after the Sandy Hook shootings, and I wanted to know why we [schools as a whole] were not better prepared,” he said. “Our facilities, with schools in Elk City, Grangeville and Kooskia, could not afford to hire a resource officer at every building.”
He explained he visited with the National Rifle Association (NRA) and they would be willing to provide 12 firearms and ammunition at no cost. In addition, after visiting with Idaho County Sheriff Doug Giddings and Undersheriff Jim Gorges, found they would provide instruction and mentorship at no cost if the schools decided to train any of its staff to use/carry firearms.
“I felt this was a way we could get the most bang for our buck, so to speak,” Dominguez said.
The policy grew from various sources in Idaho and Washington as well as tweaking language following the board poring over the documents, legal and law enforcement advice and public input. It has been pared down to a three-page document and is available on the MVSD 244 website.
“We are only two-fifths of the board, but we are here to answer your questions,” Dominguez continued. “Although I believe we all agree on the need for a policy and the basic policy that exists right now, I know we have some differences on a couple of things. I am for concealed carry.”
“And I am not in favor of concealed carry,” Harris said. “I am in favor of a lock box system.”
Both said they feel the policy will pass at the Feb. 27 board meeting.
“Will there be a limit to who can carry or will there be more than one person at each school who may be carrying?” asked patron Bridgett Barela.
Harris explained there could be several people who go through training but this also includes a psychological evaluation and board approval.
“We will be under the advice of the ICSO, but the policy does not limit the number of people who could possibly carry,” Dominguez added.
Parent Chris Wolffington asked is any other options have been considered, “besides guns?”
Dominguez explained the school district has spent thousands of dollars on better security including cameras and automatic door locks.
“I simply feel like more school attacks happen in gun-free zones than in schools that say they are going to protect their kids any way necessary,” he said. “I don’t think the safety measures we have so far taken are enough.”
“Does the policy include non-lethal uses of force?” Wolffington questioned.
“Under our policy, we list firearm use as a last resort. It’s very restrictive,” Dominguez answered.
“Will the vote be a community vote or just the board?” asked parent Kiki Abebe.
Dominguez and Harris both let the audience know the board would have the sole vote, but that they had each been elected to represent their constituents.
GEMS teacher Brittany Stewart thanked the men for a proactive approach on safety, but questioned if the school district is fully prepared to support a firearm-trained staff member who takes action?
“If the proper protocol has been followed, they will have full support and backing,” Dominguez emphasized. “If someone were to go rogue, of course that changes things.”
“You don’t have to go rogue to make a mistake,” GEMS teacher Katrena Hauger spoke up. “I am concerned we have the extra liability and life insurance as well as after-care for a trauma.”
“Definitely,” Dominguez said. “This is a risk I am willing to take. I think we are better off with this policy than not.
The duo spoke about the fact teachers or staff who carry or who may be a designated person to open a lock box will be kept a secret.
“Not a secret to administrators?” asked Dr. Susan Anderson, GEMS principal.
“No,” Dominguez said. “But it should be kept from the public.” In that way, he explained, one person would not be targeted in the case of an incident. “I would rather be a deterrent by people not knowing how many people have guns on them. I think that takes the target off our back.”