School district explores hiring SRO, arming staff

by nathan oster

Big Horn County School District No. 3 board members have begun exploring ways to prevent the type of school shooting that recently occurred in Florida, including the hiring a school resource officer and/or arming staff members.

Supt. Barry Bryant told the board during a special meeting Monday night that the Valentine’s Day shooting, in which 17 people were killed by a gunman at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School in Parkland, Fla., had prompted him to explore whether Community Oriented Policing Services (COPS) grant funds might be available to assist in the hiring of an SRO.

Bryant said grant money is available — up to $125,000, spread out over a three-year period — and that he got the sense during initial conversations with Administrator/Finance Director Paul Thur and Police Chief Bill Brenner that the town would at least be willing to discuss it.

Because the person would work in the schools nine months of the year, the school district would be responsible for 75 percent of the costs, Bryant said. Years ago when the GPD last approached the school board, the cost of hiring an SRO was estimated at around $55,000. At the time, the town was proposing to provide the vehicle and equipment.

Bryant said he brought the proposal before the board because he didn’t want to go any further down that road until he knew where they stood. If the district applies for the grant and doesn’t get it, the SRO would no longer be feasible, he said. “The only way I’d recommend going forward is if we get the grant,” he said. “If we do it, I would want to do it for three years, to see if it’s effective.”

Bryant added that he envisions the person wearing khakis and a shirt, rather than a police uniform, and that the SRO’s first priority would be to serve as a deterrent. The second would be education, he said, with an emphasis on cyberbullying. Disciplining students would not be in the job description, he said, adding that’s what administrators are hired to do.

In response to a question from Chairman Eddie Johnson, Bryant said the SRO would rotate between GES, GMS and GHS.

Trustee Mike Wirtzberger, noting that an SRO did no good in Parkland, Fla., raised the idea of arming staff members, something the state lawmakers left to the individual districts to decide. Several of them, including Cody, are currently grappling with the issue.

“That would seem to be more effective, in my book,” said Wirtzberger. “Number one, we wouldn’t have to tell anyone who (the armed staff members) are. Just the knowledge of there being people there, staff members who are armed, would be a big deterrent.”

Supt. Barry Bryant said he was initially against arming teachers. A veteran, Bryant said, “There’s a big difference between drawing a bead on a target versus drawing a bead on a student or a former student.” He said very rarely do shots find their mark.

“Even with seasoned police officers and military people, there’s a lot of adrenaline pulling a weapon on a human, and being a situation where they kill you or you kill them. A lot of people miss. It takes as lot of training to draw down on a human being.”

Wirtzberger said that while “nobody wants to shoot a kid,” if it came to the point where something needed to be done, it would have to happen.

“I saw where teachers who didn’t have guns were throwing themselves in front of kids to protect them,” he said. “I commend them. But I think all that would end if people knew there were guns in the school.   You wouldn’t have this problem.”

Shifting back to the SRO proposal, Johnson said he’s spoken with representatives of other districts who say that the relationships formed between their SROs and the students have proven beneficial.

The school board took no action, other than to direct Bryant to begin surveying staff and stakeholders about whether they would support the hiring of an SRO. At the same time, they will also be asked about their support for arming staff members.

In other business Monday night:

  • The board followed the recommendation of the superintendent to expel a student for one full calendar year, beginning Feb. 10, 2018, and ending Feb. 9, 2019.
  • School officials and community members appeared to find common ground last week during a meeting of the facilities committee. The issue was the keys to the Buff Gym that have been issued to the public in the past 10 years — and whether they posed a security risk.

Chairman Eddie Johnson said there are currently 43 keys issued to community members.

There was consensus at the meeting to let those people continue to use their keys, but to institute full background checks for new applicants. Those who currently hold keys will also be required to go through a process every year to get them renewed.

Ages requirements were also discussed, with the board ultimately agreeing to require applicants to be adults. They defined an adult as being 21. Administrators would have the option of approving keys for applicants who are under 21 and have “a clean track record” at GHS.

Applicants will also be required to wear proper attire when using the facilities.

The board discussed setting hours for community access between 6 p.m. and 6:30 a.m. weekdays and on weekends. Here again, administrators would have some latitude, if for example, someone known to them wanted to use the gym during the school day.

Lastly, the board pondered whether the district or the applicant should be required to pay for the background checks.