Evanston school officials restart gun discussions

By Sheila McGuire

Uinta County Herald

Via Wyoming News Exchange

EVANSTON — The Uinta County School District No. 1 Board of Trustees held the first of two public hearings on proposed rule CKA, the School Safety and Security Rule, which would allow district employees to apply for approval to carry concealed firearms on district property, on Tuesday, Jan. 15. 

The district chose to pursue adopting the rule after the policy on concealed carry adopted last year was ruled null and void following a lawsuit filed afterward.

When the hearing opened, trustee Dave Bennett moved to limit remarks to 10 minutes per person, a motion that was seconded by trustee Jenny Welling and approved by the board. A total of 15 citizens made comments during the meeting, with nine of those in favor of the proposed rule and six opposed. 

The first comments were from science teacher Scott Robinson, who said he supports the rule. Robinson quoted from an article published in “Town Hall,” which said a commission studying the school shooting in Parkland, Florida, last year recommended arming teachers. 

“The commission erred on the side of common sense and the Second Amendment,” Robinson said. 

District math teacher Colin Wilson said he also supports the rule. 

“I support this because I know there are teachers I trust and that I work with that I know will do the right thing when the time comes to protect students,” he said. Wilson said he believes the district will regret it if the rule is not adopted. 

Middle school band teacher Alan Dancer also spoke in favor of the rule. Dancer shared an experience he had while teaching in Montana during a lockdown incident when students from a rival school had threatened violence. 

“I’ll tell you right now,” he said, “being locked in a band room in that situation is not fun. I was scared to death — kids were scared to death. We had high school football players trembling.” He said he wanted a chance to be able to defend kids. “These are our kids and we will defend them to the death.” 

Former Evanston High School science teacher Susan Anderson, who now teaches in Mountain View, said she began looking for a new teaching position moments after the board adopted policy CKA last spring. Anderson said she and her husband made “the difficult decision to keep our children enrolled at UME (Uinta Meadows Elementary) even after being told we couldn’t request our children be in a classroom without guns.” Anderson said, “I debated whether to come here tonight because no matter what the public says, the board is going to pass this policy.” 

Parent Julie O’Connell also spoke in opposition and said she has chosen to raise her children without guns in the home. She also said she believes most board members have already made their decision on the rule. 

“Be considerate of members of the community who choose to live gun-free lives,” she said. “I’m not here asking you to change your beliefs. Most of you have already made your decision. If you choose to adopt this policy, I ask that you grant my request to not have my children in classrooms with firearms.” 

Evanston resident Karl Allred said he supports the policy. 

“It would be great if we had a gun-free place and everybody could sit around in a circle and sing ‘Kumbaya,’ but that’s not the world we live in,” he said. 

Allred said armed teachers aren’t going to go into hallways to hunt down shooters but will be able to protect kids in classrooms if needed. He also said he believes shooters deliberately target gun-free zones. 

Two Evanston pediatricians spoke in opposition to the rule. Dr. Bird Gilmartin said she spoke as a mother and a pediatrician. 

“I am obligated to practice evidence-based medicine,” she said, “and I have to apply the same principles here as well. When applying those principles, I do not believe we have enough evidence to support this policy.” 

She said more than 90 percent of pediatricians are opposed to plans to arm teachers and shared statistics about the poor firing accuracy of even highly-trained police officers in stressful situations. 

Beyond those concerns, Gilmartin also said she believes the district should respect the rights of parents to choose whether their children are in classrooms with firearms. 

“We might not come to an agreement on this and we have to live with those discrepancies, but I truly believe my child is less safe in a classroom or school with guns in it,” she said. “This rule is impacting parental rights to keep a child safe as parents see fit.” 

Dr. Alan Brown said he grew up with guns and is comfortable with guns, but that doesn’t lead to his support of the rule. 

“Numbers matter, data matters, facts matter,” he said, “and there is a lot of data on this and it doesn’t support it.” Brown also shared statistics on the firing accuracy of police officers and on the low likelihood of a school shooting even though such incidents get a lot of media attention. He pushed back on the notion that mass shootings happen in gun-free zones. 

“Ninety percent of shootings occur in public places that aren’t gun-free zones,” Brown said. “They’re happening all over the place.” 

Former police officer and school resource officer Chris Brackin, who is also the husband of school board trustee Jamie Brackin, said he supports the rule. 

“We hear a lot of people come up here and say they’re opposed to it, but they don’t say why,” said Brackin. “They’re opposed to guns.” 

Brackin said the problem isn’t just homegrown violence because terrorist groups like ISIS have stated the way to get to Americans is through their children.

“I’ve thought about this greatly and lost a lot of sleep over it,” said Brackin. “People who are properly trained might be able to stop an active shooter and save a lot of lives.” 

Attorney Monica Vozakis, one of the two people who filed suit against the district to successfully stop the policy adopted last year, said she sees the situation as one of problem solving and said the statistical probability of a school shooting is actually quite low. 

“When we make decisions based on fear and drama, we often come up with bad results,” she said. “The ideal result is not to have an armed teacher stop an active shooter but to prevent it from happening in the first place.” 

Vozakis listed a slew of organizations who have previously stated their opposition to plans to arm teachers, including the FBI, FEMA, and the professional associations of school psychiatrists, social workers, school counselors, school resource officers and elementary and secondary principals, as well as the founder of the ALICE program, which trains people how to respond to armed intruders. Vozakis concluded by saying parental and student rights would be impacted by this policy. 

“Our kids deserve better than this,” she said. 

Trustees will again be taking comments from the public at the next hearing on Tuesday, Jan. 22.