Big Horn School District No. 2 is seeking input from the community on the possibility of closing the high school campus during lunch – restricting students’ ability to leave.
The closing of the Lovell High School campus is one of several considerations the school board reviewed during Monday night’s regular school board meeting – where the board also approved the funding of two additional school resource officers and the placement of an additional AR-15 semi-automatic rifle and safe within all three district schools, giving an SRO access to a rifle at each side of a school building.
Superintendent Rick Woodford recognized during the meeting that the consideration of closing the high school campus would likely be met with controversy. But the safety of students has to come first, he
“It’s a tradition for students to be able to go home for lunch, or go out into the community. There’s a lot of reasons not to do it, but there’s one good reason to do it,” Woodford said. “It’s one of three times during our day when our kids are at their most vulnerable. Before school, after school and lunch.”
The risk doesn’t only come from the potential security risk of a dangerous individual breaching the campus during the lunch period, Woodford told the Lovell Chronicle. Lunch is also the period of time students are at the most risk to have their safety compromised, Woodford said, citing the possibility of a car accident as an example.
According to current school resource officer Sheriff Deputy Steve Coleman, because of the numbers of students exiting and entering campus untracked during lunch, it is difficult for him to ensure student safety and keep the campus secure.
Woodford stated in the meeting it’s also a recommendation that was given by local law enforcement.
“(Deputy) Coleman was very passionate and adamant that we do this,” Woodford said.
Coleman confirmed Woodford’s account.
“It is an action I would recommend,” Coleman said.
The district will be surveying staff and parents during student-teacher conferences in October regarding the issue – electing to gauge public opinion and gather public input before further considering a decision.
Woodford said a middle ground could possibly be reached when it comes to students who attend the Lovell Youth House, Mormon Seminary and other popular locations during the lunch hour. Closing the Lovell High School campus does not have to mean a total closure he said.
“We want to have a discussion with our community and consider our option and what’s best for our students,” Woodford said. “I do believe there is a middle ground here that we will consider.”
Woodford said there are students who are leaving the campus throughout the day, to either go to the gym, which is separate from the high school campus, or to participate in various athletic and academic functions.
The difference there, Woodford said, is that the students who leave campus outside of the lunch period are tracked and monitored carefully.
Public opinion will be heavily considered, Woodford said, but it will not fully determine the board’s decision.
“ Public opinion will play a big role in this decision,” Woodford said. “But the board is going to be compelled to do what is best for our students.”
Sheriff Ken Blackburn said law enforcement will support the school board in whichever decision they make.
“I have every confidence that the decision the Lovell School Board makes will be the best one for the students,” Blackburn said.
Blackburn also stated he did believe a happy medium could be determined between the student’s safety and their freedom during the lunch period.
“There are a lot of issues to talk about for safety that need to be discussed and there are a lot of different ways to skin a cat,” Blackburn said. “What works in D.C. may not work in Lovell.”
Law enforcement will continue to engage with the school district on this issue, according to Blackburn.
The School Board of District No. 2 also approved the funding of two additional school resource of1ficers and and the placement of an additional AR-15 semi-automatic rifle and safe within all three district schools Monday night.
“In our strategic plan last year, safety and security in all stakeholder groups was the most important thing,” Woodford said. “If it’s truly our most important priority we need to be willing to spend some money to keep our students safe.”
Woodford said the school board has determined that the presence of a school resource officer in all three schools is the most important step the board could take for school security.
The board unanimously voted to immediately fund the placement of an additional school resource office within the district, which would place one security officer at the high school, and an additional officer floating between the middle school and the elementary school. In the same vote, the board approved the district to work with the county commissioners
and the sheriff’s department to place a third school resource officer within the district as soon as possible, placing one officer in each school.
Blackburn said the sheriff’s department has been working with the school district and has already made preparations to make additional security officers available.
“We have been preparing for some time,” Blackburn said. “We are looking forward to working with the schools and putting officers in place.”
The board’s decision to place an additional AR-15 and safe in each school also was unanimous.
On June 14, the school district accepted a $6,540 grant from the National Rifle Association to place an AR-15 and a safe in the elementary school, middle school and high school. The school district will fund this purchase out of their general fund, according to the motion voted on Monday.
The decision will place one AR-15 and safe at each end of the school. Students will not be aware of where the safes are located and school officials will not have access to the weapons. The safes will only be accessible to law enforcement personnel, Woodford said.
School board members said the decision will both increase the safety of student and law enforcement officers, giving law enforcement quicker access to a weapon regardless of where in a building a potential attack might take place.
“The high school and elementary are so spread out, why only have one?” Jolley said.
While the school district originally planned to purchase biometric safes, Woodford said shortcomings in the technology, which might cause a safe not to recognize a fingerprint and not to open during an emergency, have caused the district to opt instead for a safe with a six-key password system.
The school district also announced several other measures the board will be considering to increase school security Monday.
They include the installation of additional fencing around school property to better define school boundaries, allowing remote access for their video camera system, establishing a door management system that will alert staff automatically if a door has been breached, and installing an electronic point of entry system that will allow the school district to get a basic background check upon an individual entering a school building.
By Ryan Fitzmaurice