Garden Valley installs firearms in school

The isolated Garden Valley School District has installed firearms in its K-12 school building and trained staff to use them in response to an active shooter.

Citing safety reasons, Superintendent Marc Gee won’t say how many guns and safes were installed or where they are located. This summer, the district will post signs warning that the school building is armed and educators are prepared to defend against violent intruders.

“I can say that we consulted with our certified trainer and legal counsel on the number of and appropriate model of firearms for our situation and we followed those recommendations,” he said.

Other districts might have guns and safes on campus, said Karen Echeverria, executive director of the Idaho School Boards Association, but Echeverria said she is not aware of any.

Garden Valley, a rural district about 60 miles from Boise, doesn’t have a resource officer on campus. The county’s 11 deputies cover the Garden Valley, Horseshoe Bend and Basin school districts and nearly 2,000 square miles. Boise County has about 7,000 residents.

“Garden Valley is in a unique circumstance,” Boise County Sheriff Ben Roeber said. “Where they are located geographically, we don’t have the staffing size to where we can guarantee safety. The school, knowing they were facing response times of up to 45 minutes, started seeking out different ideas and different options.”

The board agreed to install weapons that are locked in safes. About five staff members have been authorized and trained to use the weapons, and only those staff members will have access to them.

“I’m extremely proud of the work that’s been done here,” said Garden Valley trustee Alan Ward, who has led the board in developing a safety plan. “I am shocked at how well it worked out.”

According to April 14 board minutes, Ward said the guns were in place and he recommended purchasing colored vests, four slings, extra magazine rounds and body armor vests that could cost $2,000.

Staff members have participated in a joint training session with some deputies, and have received “many, many more hours in training,” Ward said.

“The school is very well aware that the training needs to be ongoing and consistent,” Roeber said. “They are very committed to giving the training necessary to educators to try and fill a need and protect their kids. They are showing due diligence.”

Meanwhile, Idaho City’s Basin district secured a grant to help fund a full-time, on-campus resource officer. The grant pays for 45 percent of the position, the district pays for 50 percent and the county picks up 5 percent. The officer’s annual salary is $36,000 but benefits and transportation bump the total cost to about $70,000.

“We just submitted an application to do the same thing in the other districts,” Roeber said. “I would love to be able to have the staff and budget to provide security for all the districts but we don’t have it.”

Gee, who spent one year leading the Garden Valley district, will take the Preston School District’s superintendent’s job beginning July 1. Trustees are interviewing finalists for the Garden Valley vacancy.

“When I first arrived, the situation the district was in was very apparent — in the event of a violent intruder in the building the response of local law enforcement could conceivably be over 30 minutes and by that time, the potential loss of life could be catastrophic,” Gee said. “The district has the responsibility to enact policy that will provide the highest level of protection for its students. The important piece is certainly in creating a plan that is carefully crafted and worked through. The current school board has worked tirelessly over the last two years to do just that.

“This has not been a knee-jerk reaction, but a careful, deliberate process, as it should be.”