Idaho schools use a range of safety protocols, including guns

A note addressed to intruders is taped to the front door of the Blackfoot Charter Community Learning Center.

“ATTENTION: Authorized staff are legally armed and may use whatever force is necessary to protect students.”

Head administrator Fred Ball says the message is partly a deterrent, though some teachers began carrying concealed firearms earlier this school year.

“It’s all a way to help keep our students safe,” Ball said.

Since 2015, Blackfoot Charter Community Learning Center and a handful of other Idaho school districts have approved policies to arm designated staffers with guns. Administrators in these schools point to a surge in school shootings over the last 20 years, including last week’s massacre in Parkland, Fla., which left 17 students dead and sent a political shockwave across the country.

The New York Times reported Wednesday that President Trump suggested arming teachers to combat school shootings.

“If he had a firearm, he wouldn’t have had to run; he would have shot and that would have been the end of it,” Trump said, apparently referencing Aaron Feis, a coach at Stoneman Douglas High School in Parkland who reportedly protected students with his body during the shooting.

Despite the rise in violence, however, most Idaho schools still opt for other safety measures, from regular lockdowns and trainings to securer entrances to simplified safety protocols.

Here’s a look at how some Idaho schools approach safety in the age of mass shootings.

Who has guns — and why

Idaho law lets local school boards implement firearm policies as “an appropriate part of a program, an event, activity or other circumstance.”

Aside from the Blackfoot Charter Community Learning Center, Idaho Education News identified three Idaho school districts that either allow certain staffers to conceal their own firearms or grant access to school-owned guns in emergencies:

  • Garden Valley.
  • Salmon River.
  • Mountain View.

Administrators in these districts say the rising death toll at schools across the nation plays a key role in drafting policy centered on guns. A 2014 report released by the FBI confirmed a sharp rise in mass shootings from 2000 to 2013. An average of 6.4 shootings occurred annually from 2000 to 2006. This number more than doubled from 2007 to 2013, to 16.4.

“We need to get this target off our back,” Mountain View School District trustee Mike Dominguez told KIVI news in March.

Both Mountain View and Blackfoot Charter Community Learning Center allow designated staffers to carry their own concealed weapons on campus. Garden Valley, which started its gun policy in 2015, keeps rifles in safes throughout its schools. Those designated and trained can access the weapons in a live-shooter situation.

Garden Valley superintendent Greg Alexander said his district prefers the accuracy of a rifle over a handgun. Dominguez said concealed firearms allow for quicker response time in an emergency. Despite differing preferences, leaders in all of these schools point to unique geographical or architectural constraints that they say justify gun use.

“We are a remote community,” Alexander said. “It takes at least 45 minutes for local police to dispatch here.”

School layout fuels the need for guns at Blackfoot Charter Community Learning Center, Ball said. Both the charter’s middle school and high school are located in the heart of Blackfoot, with city and county police stationed across town. However, both schools also lease space in a shopping plaza with limited front and rear exit points. These constraints would hinder evacuation procedures in an emergency, Ball said, compounding the need for staff to defend themselves and students inside the building.

Leaders in all of these schools stressed gun-training protocols tied to the policies, and said costs to maintain the programs are low. Garden Valley purchased its rifles for less than $2,000, Alexander said. Concealed-carry policies in the other schools place firearm costs on qualified participants.

“We spend about $250 every time we train, so it’s a little over a grand a year,” Alexander said. “It’s not an excessive cost.”

Most schools use a variety of other safety measures

Blackfoot School District assistant superintendent Ryan Wilson stressed that different schools require different approaches, and that he doesn’t judge those that implement gun policies.

“You can go through millions of emergency scenarios and never cover them all,” Wilson said.

Instead of guns, Blackfoot relies on regular lockdown drills to help teachers and students know what to do in an emergency. Each school in the district has a “safety binder” that outlines emergency protocols, school exit points and off-campus evacuation sites.

Like schools with gun policies, Wilson said, Blackfoot administrators train with local law enforcement and school-safety specialists to establish protocols. These trainings emphasize techniques for denying dangerous individuals access to buildings and how to fight back as a final option.

Blaine County School District spokesperson Heather Crocker said her district uses a tapestry of safety strategies and resources, including two full-time resource officers who can travel between schools.

In response to last week’s school shooting in Florida, Blaine County superintendent GwenCarol Holmes issued a statement to patrons, saying the massacre “weighs heavy on my heart” and outlining a list of the district’s current safety measures, including:

  • Surveillance cameras and panic buttons.
  • Check-in and check-out systems for visitors.
  • Mandatory staff ID badges.
  • Reminders to staff and students to report suspicious activity or anyone not wearing either an ID badge or a visitor badge.

Crocker referenced another safety guideline used in Blaine County, which school districts across the state are also adopting, including Garden Valley and Jefferson County.

Following 2006 school shooting at Platte Canyon High School in Bailey, Colo., parents of one victim started a nonprofit called the I Love U Guys foundation,  which helps schools work with local law enforcement agencies to develop standard response protocol for emergencies.

I Love U Guys emphasizes four responses to crisis situations: lockdown, lockout, evacuate and shelter.

  • Lockdown: Teachers lock classroom doors, shut off lights and tell students to get out of sight from a direct threat typically inside the building.
  • Lockout: Teachers and students return inside the building and lock perimeter doors in order to avoid a direct threat outside the building.
  • Evacuate: Teachers and students exit the building to a previously announced location in order to avoid a direct threat inside the building.
  • Shelter: Teachers and students respond by taking shelter or going into lockdown mode to avoid other possible hazards, including tornadoes, hazmat emergencies or earthquakes.

The system avoids murky lingo such as “code red,” which some educators say spurs confusion in emergencies.

“The protocol requires us to be clear,” Jefferson County superintendent Lisa Sherick  told Idaho Education News in 2016. “If there’s a lockdown, we tell them to lockdown, lock their doors, shut off their lights and get out of sight. We want to keep it simple.”

Devin Bodkin

Devin Bodkin

EdNews assistant editor and reporter Devin Bodkin is a former high school English teacher who specializes in stories about charter schools and educating students who live in poverty. He lives and works in East Idaho. Follow Devin on Twitter @dsbodkin. He can be reached by email at [email protected].

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