TWIN FALLS — Magic Valley schools are overwhelmingly recoiling at the idea of asking teachers to carry guns to defend their students on top of everything else they’re expected to do.
After 17 people were killed during a mass shooting in February at a Parkland, Fla., high school, President Donald Trump proposed arming teachers who’d receive specialized training. Idaho has a 1993 statute that allows local school districts to decide whether authorized school employees can have guns on campus.
Within the past month, many Magic Valley school districts have talked about the possibility, and most haven’t made any firm final decisions. But the vast majority — both urban and rural — are opposed to the idea, and want to focus on investing in school resource officers and other security measures instead.
“Our teachers do so much right now, so do we want to ask one more thing of them?” said Eric Anderson, superintendent of the Valley School District in Hazelton, which has about 500 students. “I have some real reservations about that. We want teachers to be teachers.”
Educators have raised concerns such as how they’d train teachers who carry guns at school, how law enforcement would know which employees are armed, and the potential liability for schools, such as if there was an accidental shooting.
But they also acknowledge it only takes minutes for someone entering a school with bad intentions to do a lot of harm.
In a Feb. 22 story, Idaho Education News identified several Idaho school campuses that allow employees to carry concealed firearms or access school-owned weapons: Blackfoot Charter Community Learning Center, Garden Valley School District, Salmon River School District in Riggins and Mountain View School District in Grangeville.
Xavier Charter School, a public charter school in Twin Falls, debated the topic extensively during the 2014-15 school year. School trustees decided to keep an already-existing policy that allows employees to request permission from the school board to carry a firearm. But no-one has put in a request and no-one is carrying a gun at school.
In light of the Florida school shooting, school board chairwoman Debbi Burr said she’s not sure if the topic will come up again. Several people at Xavier are quite qualified to carry, she said, including a teacher who also works in law enforcement.
Arming teachers is a “very hot button topic for many people,” she said, but added schools shouldn’t be afraid to have a robust discussion. “It has to be in the context of other safety measures.”
Here are thoughts from 10 Magic Valley school districts about arming teachers:
The Twin Falls School District, with about 9,400 students, doesn’t arm teachers. Officials have discussed the topic, but no changes are planned.
“At this time, it has been decided that our current practice of not arming our teachers is the best choice for our district,” the district wrote in a statement Feb. 23.
Six school resource officers are stationed at Canyon Ridge High School, Twin Falls High School, Magic Valley High School, Vera C. O’Leary Middle School, Robert Stuart Middle School and South Hills Middle School, and they visit other schools as well.
Several years ago when Xavier’s school board debated whether to allow employees to bring a gun on campus, “we were pretty evenly split with people who were really for that and those who were really against that,” Burr said.
Ultimately, it decided to leave an existing policy in place. Xavier changed its insurance policy to allow for the potential of employees carrying guns because its previous carrier said it would drop the school.
Xavier’s policy says: “All persons who wish to possess, carry or store a weapon in a school building shall present this request to the Board in a regular meeting. It is solely within the Board’s discretion whether to allow a person to possess carry or store a weapon in a school building.”
Burr said she doesn’t recall exactly what prompted the conversation in 2014 about arming teachers. But after the 2012 school shooting in Newtown, Conn., she thought about how the school principal — who was killed — tried to tackle the gunman, but didn’t have a way to defend herself or students.
In March 2014, Twin Falls police presented to Xavier’s school board about potentially arming teachers. The school board learned the response time to Xavier would likely be four to seven minutes, Burr said, adding the Florida shooting lasted about six minutes.
Xavier doesn’t have a school resource officer, but Burr said he expects that will come up again during budget talks this spring.
After a discussion last month, “the general sense, really, is the (school) board is very uncomfortable with arming teachers,” Jerome School District Superintendent Dale Layne said Tuesday.
The 4,000-student district has two school resource officers. One position is vacant because the previous officer retired, but a new one will undergo training and start after spring break.
One officer is at Jerome Middle School and one is at Jerome High School, but they go to elementary schools on occasion.
The school district is drawing plans to create a security vestibule for each school. That was underway prior to the Florida school shooting. Projects will likely be done this summer, and they’re being paid for by a plant facilities levy.
Once the new vestibules are done, visitors won’t be able to get past a set of locked doors until someone in the front office can identify them.
Cassia County’s school board has talked about arming teachers, but not since the Florida shooting, Cassia County School District Superintendent Gaylen Smyer said.
The school district — which has about 5,500 students — has one school resource officer, but he’s retiring at the end of this school year. He splits his time among 18 school campuses across a county larger than Delaware.
The district hopes to fill the position. And it wants to add a second school resource officer using money from a supplemental levy, if voters approve the measure during the March 13 election.
There are also resident sheriff’s deputies in each community. They pop into the local schools regularly, Smyer said, and could respond quickly if there’s an emergency.
Valley school administrators have discussed arming teachers, among other options for improving school security. “We’ve discussed a lot of things,” Anderson said. “Everything on the table.”
But Anderson said he’s “lukewarm” about the idea. “It’s on a lower priority list than other things we can take action on now to make kids even safer at our school.”
His main priority is to find funding for a full-time school resource officer, instead of the part-time officer it has now.
Anderson said he feels that for someone looking to inflict harm, an SRO would be a greater deterrent than armed teachers. “They are trained. They are police officers.”
Kimberly is a small community and the police department’s response time is very quick, he said. A couple of school staff members used to be police officers, but “the police department doesn’t even want them to be carrying.”
The Kimberly School District, with nearly 2,000 students, has a full-time school resource officer — a position that has been in place for about 20 years.
There’s discussion about adding another as enrollment continues to grow, Schroeder said, but in the meantime, patrol officers walk the school buildings at least weekly. “The patrol officers are very familiar with the schools.”
In Hansen, arming teachers hasn’t been discussed recently and there are no plans to do so in the near future.
Murtaugh School District Superintendent Michele Capps declined to comment due to the sensitive nature of the topic.
In Camas County, school leaders have talked informally about arming teachers, but no decisions have been made.
“I would be absolutely amazed if this topic hasn’t come up in each of every one of the nation’s school districts,” Superintendent Jim Cobble said.
The Camas County Sheriff’s Office is one block away from the school — which has about 150 students — but the school campus doesn’t have a resource officer.
Bliss School District — with about 130 students — hasn’t considered arming staff, Superintendent Kevin Lancaster wrote in an email to the Times-News. “While there is no local law enforcement, Gooding County has been excellent in responding to our needs as a school and we are within 10 minutes or less of their help.”
BOISE — A bill that would codify existing “stand your ground” statute in Idaho is headed to the House floor.
The House State Affairs Committee voted 12-3 Thursday to send SB 1313 to the full chamber with a do-pass recommendation after two hours of impassioned testimony for and against the legislation.
SB 1313, one of two Castle Doctrine bills introduced this session, would put self defense standards that already exist in Idaho case law and jury instruction into statute. Proposed changes include expanding the definition of justifiable homicide to include not only defending one’s home against an intruder, but also defending one’s place of employment or an occupied vehicle.
The bill would also add a presumption that somebody who enters or attempts to enter a residence, place of employment or vehicle “unlawfully and by force or by stealth” is doing so with the intent to commit a felony.
Supporters of the bill, including the Idaho Prosecuting Attorneys Association and the National Rifle Association, say it would clarify self-defense rights for ordinary citizens who don’t have the time or legal know-how to read and interpret decades worth of case law.
“There’s a lot of confusion about what Idaho law is,” Twin Falls Prosecutor Grant Loebs told the House committee Thursday, speaking on behalf of the Idaho Prosecuting Attorneys Association. “But the thing we have to be absolutely clear about is that Idaho is a Stand Your Ground state. Idaho already is that.”
Much of the testimony from opponents of the bill, including the ACLU of Idaho and representatives from Moms Demand Action, revolved around concerns that introducing a Stand Your Ground law would encourage people to shoot recklessly and impulsively. They pointed to increases in justifiable homicides in states that have enacted Stand Your Ground legislation, and data suggesting that racial minorities are disproportionately impacted by such laws.
Terri Pickens Manweiler, an attorney in Boise and former public defender, said she didn’t necessarily disagree with putting Idaho jury instruction standards into code, but took issue with the bill codifying presumptions.
“I don’t think it’s the role of the legislative branch to determine presumptions or intent,” Manweiler said.
Others argued that the bill doesn’t go far enough. Idaho Second Amendment Alliance spokesman Seth Rosquist told the committee that SB 1313 contains a “very limited presumption of innocence.” Rosquist suggested the bill should include a presumption that the person shooting acted reasonably.
Gun rights in Idaho are “constantly under attack,” Rosquist said. “Idaho is soon becoming the next Oregon or Washington.”
The three votes against sending the bill to the floor came from Rep. Elaine Smith, a Democrat from Pocatello; Rep. Priscilla Giddings, a Republican from White Bird; and acting Rep. George Tway, who is filling in for Rep. Hy Kloc, a Democrat from Boise.
BOISE — A bill to ensure that sexual assault victims aren’t billed for the cost of forensic evidence collection has passed the Senate.
Current law instructs hospitals and justice centers to bill sexual assault victims’ health insurance first for the cost of collecting a sexual assault kit, with Idaho’s Crime Victims Compensation Program covering any costs that remain. Under HB 429, brought by Rep. Melissa Wintrow of Boise, the full cost of the forensic exam would automatically be covered by the CVCP.
Sexual assault is the only crime where victims are billed for forensic evidence collection, co-sponsor Sen. Shawn Keough told her fellow senators on the floor.
“We don’t ask home invasion victims to cover the cost of dusting for fingerprints or the family of homicide victims to subsidize blood splatter analysis,” Keough, a Republican from Sandpoint, said.
Twin Falls nonprofit Voices Against Violence was one of the organizations consulted in the drafting of the bill. Executive director Donna Graybill said she’s seen current laws cause sexual assault survivors “a great deal of stress.” Some survivors she’s worked with have even had their credit damaged because of it, Graybill said.
“This has been a real gap in our system’s response to sexual assault survivors,” Graybill told the Times-News. “We’re really happy to see [the bill’s] success so far.”
Only one lawmaker stood to debate the measure on the floor: Sen. Abby Lee, a Republican from Fruitland, who offered her support.
“This is not only about equity,” Lee said. “This is about timeliness.”
Lee pointed out that current law can be particularly problematic for young people who are still covered under their parents’ insurance, since young victims who don’t want their parents to know about their assault may be hesitant to undergo a forensic exam.
“These are crimes,” Lee said. “And the ability to collect this evidence is critical in those first few hours after a crime of sexual assault.”
The bill passed 67-1 in the House, where Rep. Vito Barbieri, R—Dalton Gardens, provided the only “no” vote.
The Senate’s 34-1 vote on Thursday also had a lone dissenter: Sen. Dan Foreman, a Republican from Moscow. He did not debate against the measure on the floor.
Because of a minor amendment made on the Senate side, the bill will now go back to the House.
TWIN FALLS — In a surprise move, a former Twin Falls patrol officer pleaded guilty Thursday morning.
William Anthon Jansen will be sentenced at 1:30 p.m. May 21 in Twin Falls, defense attorney Joe Filicetti said Thursday afternoon.
“We have a plea bargain,” Filicetti said.
A teenage girl came forward with the allegations in late March last year, saying Jansen sexually abused her in 2008 and 2009 when she was between 7 and 9 years old. She told a sheriff’s detective that Jansen also abused at least two other girls — one who has since died and another who said Jansen abused her in 2005 and 2006 when she was 8 years old. Jansen is accused of touching the then-preteen girls’ genitals with his hands when he was in his early 20s.
One of the girls is now an adult; the other will turn 18 soon, according to Ada County deputy prosecutor Kassandra Slaven.
In exchange for his guilty plea, the charges were amended from four counts of lewd conduct with a minor to two counts of sexual abuse of a minor under 16. Jansen has agreed to take a psycho-sexual evaluation, and the severity of his sentence could be determined by the results of that evaluation.
If the evaluation shows he has a low risk of re-offending, Jansen could get probation with one year of county jail time. If he is a moderate to high risk, the court could retain jurisdiction through a prison-run therapeutic program.
“However, the ultimate sentence Jansen receives will be determined by Judge (John) Butler at the time of sentencing,” Slaven said Thursday afternoon, “and that could include prison time.”
Jansen is also required to register as a sex offender, she said. He is out of jail pending sentencing.
“We are pleased with the outcome and appreciate the Twin Falls Sheriff’s Office’s work on the case,” Slaven said. “We feel it’s a good outcome for the victims.”
Twin Falls County Prosecutor Grant Loebs handed the case over to the Ada County Prosecutor’s Office to avoid conflict. Jansen was a Twin Falls officer when charged in April.
“It was unusual,” Loebs said of the guilty plea. “It was in the middle of the trial.”
The victims testified in court Tuesday, followed Wednesday by Jansen’s ex-wives, Nicole Mathis and Amanda Barnes. Mathis and Barnes both testified that Jansen had confessed during their marriages to abusing young girls.
Prosecutors Slaven and Abby Kostecka rested their case against Jansen Wednesday afternoon. Filicetti was set to begin Jansen’s defense Thursday morning.
Jansen pleaded guilty at about 9 a.m., Filicetti said.
“Ada County did a fine job,” Loebs said, “and I’m happy it worked out.”
BOISE — Lawmakers voted Wednesday to hold off on funding the Idaho Transportation Department’s controversial proposal to relocate its District 4 headquarters — but it’s not yet clear how that could impact the department’s plan to move the facility out of Shoshone.
A budget passed unanimously by the Joint Finance-Appropriations Committee did not include funding for the move. Opponents of the plan say that moving the headquarters out of Shoshone would have a detrimental effect on the rural town’s economy.
Rep. Steve Miller (R) of Fairfield, who represents Lincoln County in District 26, recommended waiting on funding the project until the department finalizes its plans.
“We’ve had a lot of discussion about the Shoshone facility,” Miller said, noting that a final location for the facility has not yet been determined.
Miller and his fellow legislators Rep. Sally Toone of Gooding and Sen. Michelle Stennett of Ketchum have all previously spoken out against moving the headquarters from Shoshone.
A study released last year by Bengal Solutions, a consulting group within Idaho State University’s College of Business, estimated an economic loss of roughly $82,000 to $125,300 per year without ITD employees patronizing local businesses.
“The moving of that facility has a tremendous amount of impact on Shoshone and those counties, so we’d like to see what the final plans are before we make a final decision,” Miller said.