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In reaction to school shootings like the one in Roseburg, Oregon earlier this month, some have called for reexamining "gun-free zones" on campus. But one K-12 school outside of Boise, Idaho has taken a different tack, arming itself and training some staff members how to use a gun.
Garden Valley School District, a rural district with just 200 students, voted earlier this year to purchase four rifles and 2,000 rounds of ammunition for self-defense.
Here & Now's Robin Young speaks with Greg Alexander, the district's principal and superintendent, as they enter their first school year under the new policy.
Why was the decision made to arm the school?
“Our first responders are sometimes up to 45 minutes away… We have 95 percent of our families with weapons, because it’s a hunting community. So those students grow up – I just sat through a class with fifth graders doing hunter safety – it’s all part of the community and the culture that weapons are present. So knowing that students would be contacting parents, they would end up being the first responders... then they’re going to be down there in a moment and we’ve got to be sure they know we’ve taken care of their kids. Safety is our utmost concern.”
Don’t you worry that arming teachers is adding an element of danger?
“Teachers have the option to be a part of the training and be a part of the trained staff, and we have a detective who has come in to help us with all of our training and has done a great job with getting the teachers and administrators on board understanding the seriousness of what the weapons can do. It’s a respect value. We’re taking teachers that know and respect weapons to help with securing the facilities. It’s not saying, ‘hey I’m going to take a teacher that doesn’t want to be a part of it or doesn’t feel like they could make those decisions in those moments,’ but the local county sheriff’s department participates in the training so there’s a collaboration between us so we can at least get things situated and under control before they get there.”
Do you worry about a liability if something does go wrong?
“Yes I do, I won’t deny that we wouldn’t be concerned about that. But the difference is, when you grow up, and many of our teachers have grown up in a similar rural setting, the ones that are a part of this are ones that have grown up around weapons and go hunting, they recognize that when a gun is fired, it hurts and it kills. It’s one of the 10 commandments of firing, you don’t put your finger on the trigger until you’re ready to fire. I think that’s the difference. I’ve been in other settings, other districts, where the kids don’t grow up hunting but there’s guns around and that’s more a gang setting. And that’s where you see accidents around guns, because the kids don’t respect the weapons. Us having secured weapons, our hope and our plans, is that we’re deterring those kinds of situations. It’s not just one teacher, it’s multiple, so in that same sense, we would be able to protect ourselves from that particular person.”
Do you worry that someone will want to challenge your claim of safety?
“Some people would say we have a target on our back, but I also think – yeah, obviously we are worried. I didn’t get into this profession of education just for me or a couple of kids, I got in it to make a difference. And in all reality I think this is one way to make a difference in our community to say, we don’t have the same situation another district does with the police station across the street from the school, and the others have a resource officer at the school all the time. There are those reasons not to, but in our situation, with the distance being so great, it matters us to do this, and I appreciate you asking.”
This segment aired on October 23, 2015.