Headlines from around the state:
‘Toy gun leads to lockdown at Mount Tahoma High School’
— The Tacoma News Tribune
‘Suspect in police custody after report of gun at Issaquah High School’
— The Seattle Times
‘Student in custody after threats against high schools’
— The Wenatchee World
Did I mention these headlines were all from this week?
That last one from The World topped an article about an Eastmont senior who posted on social media a threat “to shoot up” Eastmont and Wenatchee high schools. As a result, Eastmont went into lockdown Wednesday afternoon.
What a dreary time to be a student in America, this era of school shootings and lockdowns and active shooter drills scheduled between P.E. and math.
“We stay very quiet so the bad guy doesn’t think we’re there and then he goes away,” my first-grader explains casually at the dinner table.
There have been 23 school shootings that resulted in injury or death in the U.S. this year, according to a school shooting tracker (such a uniquely American invention) created by the publication “Education Week.” Thirty-five people have been killed. Seventy-eight have been injured.
And so we remain on edge, and we continue our long, fraught, sometimes evolving, often stalled national conversation about how best to protect students from gun violence.
Research tells us that limiting access to firearms reduces gun violence, so this conversation must include passing gun safety laws to prevent people with dangerous histories from ever getting a gun. If it doesn’t include this possibility, that’s not a conversation worth having. But while politicians at the state and national levels battle the specifics of gun legislation, there are things we can do for our kids right here at home.
We can “harden” our schools, control access to campus buildings. We can hire more mental health professionals to identify the students who are on the edge, and then work to pull them back. And we can give the police officers stationed in schools the tools they tell us they need to do their jobs.
At the Wenatchee School Board meeting on Tuesday night, Wenatchee Police Chief Steve Crown asked the board to allow the district’s one school resource officer (SRO) to keep a rifle, issued by the police department, in a locked gun safe in his Wenatchee High School office. A rifle used to be kept in that safe, which the district purchased and installed during the 2017-18 school year. It was removed from the high school sometime in the last year at the request of the school board, though there is now some confusion about how, exactly, that decision was made.
In any case, the rifle is coming back. The police wanted it back. The high school’s parent advisory group wanted it back. The school’s principal wanted it back. And on Tuesday night, the board agreed the rifle should be returned to the campus gun safe. Only the SRO has access to the safe.
“While I sincerely hope that this rifle is never needed, the tactical advantage it provides with the goal of protecting innocent lives when seconds count is undeniable,” Crown wrote to Superintendent Brian Flones.
Arming teachers or any other civilian on campus is a dangerous idea that has been widely denounced by educators and the National Association of School Resource Officers. But having a rifle on hand to be used only by a trained police officer in the event of an active shooter situation makes sense.
Tuesday night’s decision was a positive step forward for school safety in Wenatchee. The next step forward should be to hire an additional SRO for the district, another recommendation Crown made to the school board this week. A district spokesperson says that idea has to be tabled for now due to budgetary challenges. Soon, though, the district should find a way to add another officer.
Kelli Scott’s email address is email@example.com