By Joshua Scheer, reporter, county10.com
(Lander, Wyo.) – Following a lengthy and passionate discussion Tuesday night, the Fremont County School District 1 Board of Education directed administration to form a district-wide safety and security committee to enhance school safety.
The board by consensus asked Superintendent Mike Bowman and Assistant Superintendent for Business Services Kirk Schmidt to look into who the committee should be made up of as well as defining the committee’s role. They will present the plan to the board during its 7 a.m. March 1 meeting.
An urgency to get the ball rolling was reflected by a parent, board members and other administration after Schmidt presented his recommendation to bring in the Office of Homeland Security in the fall after various schools change buildings. Originally the state department was to come no later than May 1.
“I will certainly do whichever direction the Board wants to go but it’s my recommendation that we make the necessary corrections to our plan and have Homeland Security do the evaluation in the fall after all the moving has taken place,” Schmidt wrote in a memo to the board.
In speaking to the board, he emphasized the need for an entity outside of the community to review the district’s procedures. Schmidt said some structural changes to existing buildings might be done this summer, including improving the entrance to Baldwin Creek Elementary School.
Trustee Bruce Palmer said he had concerns about waiting for Homeland Security to begin working on anything. He noted a discomfort with the way the entrance to Lander Valley High School is designed. Schmidt noted that its difficult to do any construction during the school year. Chairman Brett Berg agreed but said if the district waits to review everything until September, no construction could be done until summer 2014.
Bowman said Homeland Security supplied some templates for the district to work through, and when they arrive they’ll gather local agencies to work through the plans.
Trustee Teresa Nirider said that the district didn’t have to wait until the state office arrived to begin meeting with everyone. She asked how closely the district was working with School Resource Officer Jake Conilogue. She also noted that Kathi Metzler of Fremont County Emergency Management works under Homeland Security. “I don’t hear a close relationship going on,” she said of the district working with local entities. Schmidt said there are differing opinions among local agencies as far as school safety goes.
Trustee Brooke Sutton asked Schmidt if he meets regularly with Conilogue and the schools’ principals regarding safety measures. Schmidt said they do not meet regularly. Following the monthly drills conducted at schools, he said Conilogue sends reports on how smoothly everything went. Sutton said there should be meetings to discuss “What can be done right now to make our schools safer?”
Toward the end of the discussion, Conilogue said he has already presented current emergency plans to Metzler and she came back with her thoughts last month. What it comes down to, he said, is getting teachers and staff trained, noting that some of them have “never been told they have the ability to fight back” should an intruder enter the building. “That’s where I’d like to see things go,” he said of more training. He admitted that he hadn’t had much time to meet with Bowman about safety and security as recently as he would have liked to.
Trustee Dave Clark said he understands the wanting to wait for Homeland Security due to the building changes. Those changes, he said, would effect the plans.
Berg believed that inter-agency meetings should go ahead and begin. “Lets do what we can in lieu of Homeland Security showing up,” he said, adding that when they arrive they’ll do it again.
Parent Penny Buffington then addressed the board. She too said the local agencies should be involved, saying that they feel it is a “slap in the face” to call in Homeland Security. She advocated constant dialogue “We are at a point now where progress is at a stand still,” she said.
LVHS Assistant Principal Brad Neuendorf said, “I think it’s critical … that we do not wait.” He said that changing building shouldn’t fundamentally change the protocols. He said they would need to be tweaked after the move, but that the basics would still be the same.
Trustee Ryan Hedges, noting that he’s hearing a disconnect, moved to form a safety and security committee to include public agency officials and school board members. He later withdrew his motion to allow the administration to iron out details of the committee.