DAYTON — It’s important to be educated about issues that could face youth in Sheridan County, even if they aren’t currently a problem, community members said during a public meeting Tuesday.
Tongue River Valley Community Center and the Sheridan County Sheriff’s Office partnered to bring an informational meeting, “An Evening with Deputy Boot Hill,” to about 20 community members at the Dayton TRVCC on Tuesday.
Hill presented information about current ALICE protocols in the case of an active shooter, vaping trends among youth and drug trends countywide.
SCSD1 Superintendent Pete Kilbride said it’s important to prepare for the worst, even though an individual is more likely to be struck by lightning or killed in the car on the way to school than in a school shooting.
“We don’t know what we don’t know,” Kilbride said.
The ALICE protocol — Alert, Lockdown, Inform, Counter and Evacuate — is the current protocol in place in SCSD1 in the case of an active shooter.
Hill said doing something is better than nothing, even if it’s defending oneself with a pencil or distracting a shooter by throwing a tissue box. Young students can run around and cause confusion — a useful approach when a “bad guy” is threatening students, he said.
A counter attack or swarm is the last resort, Hill said, but the point is to disrupt a shooter’s ability to shoot accurately.
Arvada-Clearmont schools held a TAC*ONE training last month, a program which encourages students to take a more aggressive and hands-on approach to active shooter situations.
Kilbride said programs like TAC*ONE are more appropriate in isolated locations like SCSD3 where response times for law enforcement are even slower than in other districts, where aggressive action may be necessary.
Kilbride said SCSO deputies are often present on SCSD1 campuses and frequently interact with students, which supports a quicker response time to situations.
Hill shared statistics about school-related shooting incidents and best practices for teachers at the meeting, including placing teaching positions far from the door, as teachers are often the first target of a shooter.
Statistics Hill gathered through the ALICE program said 98% of school shooters are male and the average age is between 15 and 19. One shot is fired every four to 15 seconds and half of shots hit someone. More than half of shootings occur in classrooms.
Whether at church, Walmart or school, it’s important to empower students and the public to act in the moment, Hill said.
Running, barricading doors, rushing the attacker or causing the shooter to be confused can all be effective, but students should have more tools available to them than hiding in the corner — the encouraged practice 10 years ago, he said.
Hill encouraged community members not to come to schools during an active shooter situation despite the desire to protect their children.
He also shared information with community members about vaping in Sheridan County schools, including the importance of learning to recognize what vaping tools look like and their dangerous health effects.
Many states have moved to pass legislation banning e-cigarette flavors or engage in public service campaigns to prevent youth from vaping. The Trump administration is also pushing for bans on vaping products.
E-cigarette maker Juul Labs announced Wednesday morning that Juul chief executive Kevin Burns is stepping down, to be immediately replaced by chief strategy officer K.C. Crosthwaite from the tobacco company Altria Group Inc. Altria owns 35% of Juul Labs Inc.
Burns’ exit comes in the wake of hundreds of severe health incidents linked to vaping.
News outlets reported Juul is also suspending advertising and lobbying efforts in the U.S. because of those health concerns.
Vaping devices are easy to conceal, readily available, marketed as a safe alternative to smoking cigarettes and can easily be charged with a USB, all of which make vaping accessible to Sheridan’s students, Hill said.
Some students vape in class by concealing devices in their sweatshirts and holding the vapor in their mouth until it dissipates to avoid a visible vapor cloud, or vape in the bathroom, Hill said.
Kilbride said some vaping devices are concealed inside hoodie strings.
Kilbride said five students from SCSD1 have already been suspended this academic year for vaping. Nationally, there has been an increase in the number of high school and middle school students who vape and Sheridan is not immune to that problem, Hill said.
Severe health effects can occur as a result of vaping, but it will likely take impactful events, like deaths, to show that the habit can have dangerous consequences, Kilbride said.
Hill said vaping, marijuana, alcohol and occasionally prescription drug use are the biggest drug-related problems in Sheridan schools.
Countywide, marijuana, methamphetamine and occasionally cocaine are a problem, especially with legal recreational marijuana in Colorado and legal medicinal marijuana in Montana, he said.
Hill hasn’t worked a case in SCSD1 or SCSD3 where a student used methamphetamine, but it still could be happening, he said.
One community member who attended the event said it’s important for students to see SCSO deputies as approachable people rather than solely an intimidating force. Hill said his relationships with students have helped solve crimes, as he’s built trust and rapport with students.
Another attendee said Sheridan County communities should avoid placing themselves in bubbles, as if isolated from national issues facing youth. Many issues, like vaping and school shootings, are still challenges and possibilities in small communities.
Kilbride said he plans to bring community prevention manager Ann Perkins back to present information about vaping during parent-teacher conferences this fall as she did last year.
As a certified ALICE instructor himself, Kilbride said it’s important to be prepared and educated about what is happening and what could happen in Sheridan County’s schools.