Evanston schools give gun policy another shot
EVANSTON — The Uinta County School District No. 1 Board of Trustees held a public hearing on proposed Rule CKA, the district’s concealed carry policy, on Tuesday, March 30 — the most recent in a string of public hearings on the matter that have been held each time the district has gone through the policy adoption process.
The current effort marks the third time the district has held public hearings on the entire policy, as very similar policies were adopted in 2018 and 2019, only to be ruled invalid — including by the Wyoming Supreme Court — on procedural grounds in multiple legal challenges.
Superintendent Ryan Thomas provided an update on the current process at the March 30 meeting, and he said the proposed rule meets or exceeds the requirements of W.S. 21-3-132, the enabling legislation passed during the 2017 legislative session.
Thomas said a committee of law enforcement officers had been consulted and weighed in on the proposed rule and said those consulting officers have stated the firearm training requirements of the rule exceed those required for their own certifications.
Thomas also shared information on what the initial training entails, describing it as “rigorous,” and said there are details regarding the types of ammunition and firearms allowed that will not be publicly shared for safety reasons.
Board chair Jami Brackin said the board feels strongly that it’s important to get input from the community regarding the proposed rule and she believes they have received good information and comments with each public comment period.
Perhaps because there have been multiple other public hearings on the matter, only four individuals spoke at the most recent hearing. Evanston High School student Aidan McGuire and Evanston resident Tim Beppler — one of the plaintiffs in the suits filed regarding the previously adopted polices — spoke against the rule, while district assistant superintendent Doug Rigby and retired police officer Chris Brackin spoke in favor.
McGuire said he is “adamantly opposed” to the rule for several reasons, including costs. He said the district has spent tens of thousands of dollars to defend the policy in court, money he believes would be better spent elsewhere, especially since the individuals who have filed the lawsuits have indicated they will perhaps keep challenging the rule until a ruling on constitutionality claims is finally reached.
McGuire said the funds could instead be invested into resources and programs to potentially stop violent incidents before they started. McGuire further said he attended the Friends of Rachel program and training at EHS last school year — a program created by a family who actually lost a loved one to a school shooting — and at no time did anybody advocate for arming teachers during that training.
He also referenced his own experience with a recent armed intruder training at the high school, during which he said he and a classmate became “victims” of a school resource officer acting the part of a shooter. McGuire said, if it had been a real shooting, he doesn’t believe an armed teacher in that classroom would have changed the outcome at all.
Finally, McGuire said, contrary to some comments made at previous hearings on the matter, he doesn’t believe it is the school board’s job to defend Second Amendment rights but rather to focus on the safety and education of children.
Rigby, who had also addressed the board at a hearing during one of the previous policy adoption processes, said it’s impossible for him to separate his role as a district employee from that as a parent.
He said armed teachers made possible by adopting CKA would be a “last resort” measure, only to be utilized after other measures, including the SafeDefend emergency alert systems the district installed two years ago, are used.
He specifically mentioned students who may not be in classrooms if a violent intruder entered a school building, stating CKA would help staff “take care of kids who can’t get behind a locked door.”
“I want that last resort between my daughter” and an armed shooter, said Rigby.
He explained he too had been involved in some of the firearm training for those requesting permission to concealed carry. Rigby said that he consciously knew he wasn’t going to be injured or killed during the simulations but that the scenarios were “still as real as you can get,” including “shoot-don’t shoot” scenarios.
Chris Brackin, who had also addressed the board on the topic of armed staff previously, said he supports the policy and appreciates the school board for putting it together. He said he believes the majority of the community has already spoken and is in favor of the policy and that the teachers who would apply to carry a concealed firearm know the risks and have prepared to act in dangerous situations to save the lives of children.
Brackin referenced gun control and suggested asking “a blood or crip” if they obtained their guns legally, while also indicating he was OK with background checks for gun purchases.
Beppler was the last to speak, telling the board he had previously submitted extensive written comments, including new research and evidence. He said he suspects the board will again vote to adopt the policy but requested they pause and take time to read and think about the evidence he had submitted.
Beppler said some of that evidence included a study showing armed school resource officers actually increased the chances of violence in a school because mass shooters are often suicidal.
He also referenced previous comments by some board members that the lawsuits he has been a party to were “frivolous,” noting that each suit had resulted in a loss for the district.
“By nature, that’s not frivolous,” he said.
At the conclusion of comments, Thomas said he would compile all written comments received via email or submitted through a form available on the district’s website to present to the board for review.
At the next meeting on April 13, the board will have the opportunity to respond to those comments, as required by the Wyoming Administrative Procedures Act. At the regular May board meeting, trustees may opt to approve the formal response to comments and potentially approve Rule CKA itself.