In the wake of the Sandy Hook school shootings, the Moab School District is ready to employ a full-time sheriffs deputy whose only job is school security.
The deputy’s time would be divided among Moab’s three public school campuses. The effort is being spearheaded by Sheriff Steven White, who has worked with the school’s Safety Committee during the last 10 years, ever since the Columbine shootings in Colorado.
"Especially since Columbine, the schools, the law enforcement and the community as a whole has taken a very strong interest in the safety of these kids. It changed how law enforcement deals with these issues. Columbine totally changed how we dealt with active shooters. There’ll probably be some things come out of Sandy Hook that you’ll see how we change some things," White said.
School board member Jim Webster also sits on the Safety Committee, which has been active since the Sandy Hook shootings. Webster is ready to support an armed deputy working at the schools.
"Not as a reaction to Sandy Hook at all, but an acknowledgement of the time that we live in," Webster said.
Last year the Moab schools staged an elaborate “active shooter drill,” as part of ongoing training. On the last day of class before Christmas break, a false rumor that a student was bringing a gun to the high school triggered a panic among Moab parents.
"I was at the high school, during what I would call an almost exodus of students after the unfounded threat became known. So there was again a lot of inaccurate information floating around out there on Facebook, on Twitter, on email, on text messages, that caused tremendous concern on the parts of parents. And so lots of parents came in to the school and demanded to take their kids out of school."
For the rest of that day, numerous armed police and deputies patrolled the Moab schools, and escorted school buses. Even at the new HMK elementary school, which has state-of-the art security features, Moab parents were concerned. Taryn Kay is a principal at HMK, and also coordinates the Comprehensive Emergency Preparedness plan for the schools.
"Every time there’s a situation like Newtown, or Columbine, I think renewed fear happens in the community, and parents are more afraid. And so for us as school personnel it becomes really important to reassure them. We saw more of an increase in anxiety, much more in parents than in students. We kind of became grief counselors for parents, dealing with grief that could happen to them."
Kay says the students feel very safe at the elementary school, which has advanced features to control and limit access to classroom areas.
"What we’ve learned is, every emergency is different and unique. And so you can have things written on paper, but there has to be a lot of training that helps people understand situational awareness, and staying calm in the middle of chaos."
Although Utah law allows teachers to have concealed weapons at school, it’s not a likely scenario in Moab. Ron Olsen, another school board member on the safety committee, has mixed feelings about the issue.
"I don’t know, it would’ve been nice if a couple of those teachers at Sandy Hook could have a gun, especially the one that hid all her kids in the closet there," Olsen said. "She was the only one there when he came in and she got killed, but if she had a weapon she could have defended herself. So I can see some advantages to that, but I can also see the disadvantages too. When you have a loaded weapon in the classroom there’s always the potential for, get it taken away from you and used by somebody else. Especially if they know you’ve got one."
Taryn Kay has no ambivalence about guns in schools.
"I’ve had a couple of parents ask me if teachers are packing. I am personally not aware of anyone who does, and I’m not an advocate. We don’t want kids to feel like they are in a prison state," Kay said.
Scott Crane, superintendent for Moab schools, feels the same.
"We’re not the police, we’re not the Sheriff’s Office, I think that that’s their job. They’re trained, that’s what they do for their profession. I think we teach," Crane said.
As far as how to pay for a full-time peace officer in the schools, Kay said, “We’ll worry about the money as we go along.”