SHERIDAN — A new bill proposal would require all Wyoming school districts to create complete strategies regarding school safety and security, but it would have little impact on local schools, which already have such plans in place.
The proposal from Sen. Affie Ellis, R-Cheyenne, would require the Wyoming Department of Education to create school safety and security guidelines after consulting with several entities, including homeland security, the attorney general’s office and state construction department. Those guidelines would be given to all school districts around the state, who would then be required to create a comprehensive safety and security plan based on a nationally recognized organization, such as Alert, Lockdown, Inform, Counter, Evacuate (ALICE).
The proposal passed by a 9-4 vote last week during the joint education committee meetings. The bill is sponsored by the JEC and will be introduced in the state Senate during the upcoming legislative session that begins in January.
Most school districts already have comprehensive plans, including the three local districts, so the bill wouldn’t change much for area schools. Sheridan County School Districts 1, 2 and 3 all follow ALICE training. SCSD3 also brought in TAC*ONE Consulting last week, a private company that provided tactical training and self-defense for students and instructors to better respond to an active shooter.
“With or without the bill, we’re going to always keep moving forward with our safety issues,” SCSD2 superintendent Craig Dougherty said. “I’m glad it’s on their radar, but we’re going to do that regardless.”
SCSD1 superintendent Pete Kilbride agreed.
“I don’t think it’ll look very different for us,” Kilbride said. “In terms of practicality, we’re already doing that.”
Rep. Mark Kinner, R-Sheridan, voted in favor of the proposal.
Kinner participated in ALICE training for new SCSD2 instructors in August and said it helped him understand the relevance of the topic.
“That heightened my sense of awareness about the issue, and it really got me to thinking about the need to do what we can to help our students and staff and everyone be as safe as possible,” Kinner said.
Kinner said the four legislators who voted down the proposal likely did so because it was presented on short notice.
“I think some of the people that voted against it aren’t necessarily against safety and security,” Kinner said. “They just thought that this bill came up rather quickly, without a lot of time to sort of look at it and have people weigh in on it. The feeling of us (who voted in favor) was, ‘That may be the case, but this is such an important issue.’”
Kinner also noted that there is still time for school administrators to discuss the issue with board members, local legislators and community members before the legislative session begins in January.
Regarding who determines safety and security plans, local educators mentioned the importance of leaving some control up to individual school boards.
Dougherty said all school districts should have safety parameters, but not every district is the same.
“I think there should be some commonalities that should be required, in terms of entrances and every school should have a plan,” Dougherty said. “…It’s completely different for a Sheridan [County School District] 2 versus an Arvada or a Kaycee, so I think individual boards along with their administration, should develop their own plan, but there should be definite plans that meet a certain requirement by the state.”
Kilbride agreed and said local school boards should set the policies depending on enrollment, location and other factors.
“What works best in Natrona County may not be the best for, say, Sheridan (County School District) 3,” Kilbride said. “We’re very different in terms of population size, responses, school resource officers, so I think the individual districts are probably best suited to put their own policy in place.”
Similarly, Kinner said school districts in Sheridan County are updated on safety and security policies, but some districts across the state haven’t gone far enough.
“We thought maybe we ought to provide a baseline level of information and requirements of the different (school) boards,” Kinner said. “Then provide basics and then let them do what they feel is appropriate at their district level, but not totally wipe our hands of it.”
The proposed bill likely wouldn’t change established plans in local schools, but it could put the issue of school safety at the forefront of educators’ minds across the state.