The Idaho Senate and the House of Representatives failed to pass a bill this session that it sponsor said would enhance school safety. Yet despite the legislative inaction, leaders at some of Idaho’s local school districts remain confident in their ability to provide adequate security in their schools.
Sen. Marv Hagedorn, R-Meridian, introduced Senate Bill 1133, legislation that would have allowed for armed security on the campuses of Idaho’s K-12 schools, as well as for the designation of “gun-free zones” on those campuses.
“This is a compilation of a number of meetings,” Hagedorn said of the legislation, noting that meetings and direct communication involving the governor, the Idaho Department of Education, local law enforcement agencies and stakeholder groups statewide led to the content of the bill.
He said the bill was “somewhere in between the extremes” of arming every teacher, and disarming everybody in schools, both ideas that had been under consideration.
The bill passed overwhelmingly in the Senate, but concerns quickly arose in the House about a lack of transparency entailed in the legislation.
For example, testifying before the House Education Committee, Wayne Hoffman, executive director of the Idaho Freedom Foundation, noted that “I appreciate the good intentions of this bill, but it has problems. Given the way it is written, nobody knows, except the local school district officials, what is included in the school safety program. There is a transparency problem here. Who is to say that a security plan is good or bad? If we don’t know what it is, we can’t say. We’re left with a situation where no one can ask the right questions or get the right answers.”
Hoffman was joined in his concern by Monica Hopkins, executive director of the American Civil Liberties Union of Idaho. “Transparency is a critical component of our elective democracy,” Hopkins noted in the same committee hearing. “We are not well served with this broad exemption of the safety plans from public records.”
The House Education Committee voted to send the bill to the floor of the House for amending, but the bill never faced a vote again.
But local school districts believe they have the duty and authority to provide for security and safety at their respective districts.
“We do have the authority and ability to do what we need to regarding security,” notes Dr. Bruce Gestrin, assistant superintendent of the Meridian School District, the state’s largest school district. “I believe our local school board is in a position and has the authority to do what is needed regarded school safety,” he told IdahoReporter.com.
After the mass murders at Sandy Hook Elementary School in Newtown, Conn., last December, expectations were that the Idaho Legislature would seek new policies regarding public school security.
“I have no doubt that there will be plenty of discussion, and likely legislation, to address these issues,” House Minority Leader John Rusche, D-Lewiston, told IdahoReporter.com in December.
Similarly, Sen. Steve Thayn, R-Emmett, noted at that time that “we can pursue more gun control as the president is doing, and that’s not an option for us; we can place additional security officers on campuses; or we can empower the existing personnel in local districts.” Thayn also told IdahoReporter.com that the third option was the better choice, both for security and for cost effectiveness purposes.
“It is our responsibility, and we have to use the tools available to us,” Brent Regan, trustee of the Coeur d’Alene Public Schools District told IdahoReporter.com. “This is what we do, we set policy.” Regan notes that the Coeur d’Alene school district has had a fairly elaborate campus security program in place for some time, involving regular “drill” exercises with district officials and local law enforcement personnel.
Similarly, Gestrin tells IdahoReporter.com that the Meridian School District already works closely with local law enforcement, meeting monthly with the Ada County Sheriff’s Department, and both the Boise and Meridian city police departments. “We receive great support from the local agencies,” he noted.
As for arming teachers and other school personnel, Regan states that “I don’t think it’s a good idea, nor do I think that would be popular, for all teachers to be armed.” He does note, however, that “if there was sufficient training and recurring qualifications, then I can see that there would be situations where that (arming school personnel) would be OK. There are situations where a gun on a campus is a good thing, if it is being carried by the right person.”
Both Regan and Gestrin note that the lack of new legislation from the Capitol has not prevented them from proactively seeking security measures in their respective districts. “If, God forbid, we had some tragedy happen and it was because our board failed to take action, that would be a very difficult thing for me to live with,” Regan stated.
Note: IdahoReporter.com is published by the Idaho Freedom Foundation. Brent Regan is a member of the board of directors of the foundation.