Safety in our schools in wake of shootings

District working on improvements, parents have differing safety views
By Brandon Gustafson | Mar 14, 2018
Washington Gov. Jay Inslee

Gun control and school safety have been two hot topics in the U.S., and the state of Washington, over the last month.

On Feb. 14, at Stoneman Douglas High School in Parkland, Florida, a former student shot and killed 17 people and injured another 14.

The day before the Parkland shooting, a student at ACES High School, an alternative high school in the Mukilteo School District, was arrested for plans to do a shooting and bombing at ACES.

The suspect, Joshua O’Connor, had his plans discovered by his grandmother when she found a gun, grenades, and detailed journal entries about his plot to inflict as much damage and chaos at the school as he possibly could. His estimated date for carrying out those plans was April 19, the day of the 1995 Oklahoma City bombing and one day before the 1999 Columbine High School shooting.

President Donald Trump said he wanted to arm a small group of teachers who are “very gun adept.”

Washington Gov. Jay Inslee recently made media waves for his vocal opposition to those ideas at a meeting in the White House on Monday, Feb. 26.

“When you have a gun free zone, it’s like an invitation for these very sick people to go there,” Trump said to Inslee. “I do think there needs to be some sort of major retaliation if they’re able to enter a school. If that happens, you’re not going to have these problems anymore, because they’re never going to the school. You’re never going to have a problem.”

Inslee told President Trump that he’d heard from many teachers in Washington, and they don’t want to be carrying guns on school campuses.

“Whatever percentage it is (of teachers who would carry guns on school grounds), speaking as a grandfather, and speaking as governor for the state of Washington, I have listened to the people who would be affected by that,” Inslee said. “I have listened to the biology teachers who have said they don’t want to do that at any percentage. I have listened to the first grade teachers that don’t want to be pistol-packing first grade teachers.”

Gov. Inslee also said he spoke with law enforcement agencies who don’t want to take long periods of time training teachers to be more gun adept, which he said would take about six months.

“I just think this is a circumstance where we need to listen,” Inslee said. “Educators should educate, and they should not be foisted upon this responsibility of packing heat in first grade classes.”

Inslee finished his statement by suggesting to Trump, "We need a little less tweeting here and a little more listening."

 

Where does that leave Mukilteo?

 

The Mukilteo School District and the Mukilteo community have been at the center of gun control in some capacity since July 2016, when a shooting at a Mukilteo party killed three and seriously injured another.

As mentioned previously, there was also the foiled shooting and bombing of ACES High School that almost came to fruition.

As seen in the Inslee-Trump mini debate, there are two sides that have very differing opinions on how guns and schools should, or shouldn’t, coexist.

In the aftermath of the Florida shooting and the planned shooting and bombing at ACES, Mukilteo School District Superintendent Marci Larsen issued a statement about safety in the school district.

“During the past few weeks, all of us in the Mukilteo School District have been rocked by the news of another school shooting event in Florida and also by the news that one of our own students was planning a shooting at one of our schools,” Larsen said. “Fortunately, in the latter case, word of the plot was reported to police and that student is now in custody and charged with the crime of attempted first-degree murder. This is an issue that brings to mind the question about what the Mukilteo School District is doing to help assure that our schools are safe and secure.”

Larsen said there is a lengthy list of programs and activities the district is putting in place such as hiring a full-time safety manager and making sure there is more availability for school resource officers who are assigned from the various police jurisdictions that serve the schools in the district.

“We have schools within three different police jurisdictions: the city of Mukilteo Police, city of Everett Police, and the Snohomish County Sheriff’s Office,” Mukilteo School District spokesman Andy Muntz said. “We have a close working relationship with all three of them and have school resource officers (SRO) assigned to schools from all three departments. We have an SRO from Mukilteo at Kamiak, a deputy sheriff SRO at Mariner, and an SRO from Everett at Explorer Middle School.

“The SROs not only serve the school to which they are assigned, but also are very helpful to the middle schools and elementary schools that are nearby.”

Larsen also noted that with help from local voters, the school district has improved safety over the last few years.

“Voters approved a ballot measure in 2014 that provided $2 million for safety initiatives,” Larsen said. “We have more than 500 security cameras installed at our schools, consultants evaluate our buildings and grounds for improved security, and we have programs in place to help students with their emotional and mental health needs.”

Muntz said one of the things the school district is working on is implementing new protocol for school safety called “Run Hide Fight,” which would be used at all schools in the Mukilteo School District.

“Run Hide Fight” essentially teaches three ways to respond to an active threat.

The ways are running for safety, hiding in a safe area and blocking the threat from getting to that area, or fighting if found by the threat by throwing anything from chairs to pens to a cup of coffee.

“Kamiak, for example, has a task force of school and district office staff members, students, police experts, and parents who are working out the details for implementing that program within the next year,” Muntz said. “‘Run Hide Fight’ is a program that is endorsed by the Department of Homeland Security and most police agencies and we are utilizing all the expert advice that we can from those organizations.”

In terms of things people can do now to help with school safety, Larsen urged anyone who sees or hears anything suspicious to contact school officials or local law enforcement.

“We all have a role in making our schools safer,” Larsen said. “The incident that happened right here at home is a perfect example of the most important thing that can prevent school tragedies like the one that happened in Florida. If you see or hear something, say something. Call the police or your school administrator if you are aware of any threat to schools or if you see anything that seems suspicious.”

Larsen also said Mukilteo Schools have a system called “SafeSchools Alert Hotline” so people can report safety issues. That can be found on the Mukilteo School District’s website.

Mukilteo Police Chief Cheol Kang shared a few thoughts on school safety in Mukilteo.

“In general I'd say that the Mukilteo Police Department is committed to partnering with the Mukilteo School District to keep our kids safe,” Kang said.

Kang said they’ve been working with the district in implementing “Run Hide Fight” and want school district staff members to be properly trained.

“We want to get district staff trained on current emergency response procedures that teaches staff a dynamic set of skills for responding to active threats,” Kang said. “The district, in particular Kamiak High School, has been a great partner with getting this process started.”

 

Thoughts of Mukilteo parents

 

Many parents reached out to The Beacon with their thoughts on school safety in the Mukilteo School District.

One of those parents, Maureen Lewison, is a mother of three who has had at least one child in the school district since 2006.

She says that she has seen a lot of changes in school safety since 2006, and that the district has done a good job of properly communicating with parents when serious incidents occur.

“From a parents perspective, I have always felt communication from within the district has been prompt, effective, clear and informative,” Lewison said. “They have done a fantastic job keeping parents informed during a lock down situation. I love the fact that resource officers are in the buildings of most schools, and tend to be tenured in their position within a school.”

Lewison added that police response, when needed, has been quick and thorough.

She did feel that there are still safety issues that should be addressed.

“I don't love that not all of our schools have doors that lock from the inside. This puts staff and children in harm's way when having to lock the door in a lock down situation,” Lewison said. “I don't love that not all of our schools have cameras within the schools that can be monitored consistently for safety sake. I wish all schools had a security badge system that allows the doors to be locked and visitors to be buzzed in like at the new Pathfinder Kindergarten Center.”

Ed Koonce is a father of three with two of his children still attending Mukilteo schools.

He has concerns with police responsiveness due to the fast nature of school shootings.

“Most of the school shooting are done within five minutes, but the national average for a police department’s response is well over that,” Koonce said. “And people still wonder why this is still happening all around us?”

Koonce also is in favor of arming teachers and school staff.

“As a parent I’m very in favor for a training and arming program for school staff,” Koonce said. “After finding out about the Toppenish school’s (Yakima) already having a program in place for years now; there’s your starting point for a state wide program.”

Koonce also provided his ideas for a program, which include being voluntary, continuous gun training, background checks by the city, state, FBI and Homeland Security, and that teachers who choose to carry are put in a national database system.

Paul Kramer is a Mukilteo citizen who has been an outspoken voice for more gun control.

Kramer has two sons, both of whom attended Mukilteo schools.

Kramer’s youngest son, Will, was one of four people shot at the house party in July 2016 and was the only person shot who survived.

“Obviously, we have a very serious problem with gun violence in this country,” Kramer said. “We've seen it here in Mukilteo with the July 30, 2016 shooting that murdered Anna Bui, Jake Long, and Jordan Ebner, seriously injured my son Will, and traumatized fifteen others who were in the house that night.”

Kramer described the effect of gun violence as “absolutely heartbreaking,” saying innocent people are dying and children are dying at their schools with parents sending them off and never seeing them again.

Kramer said he’s happy to see survivors of the recent Florida shooting speaking out and taking action against gun violence, and he’s happy to see Mukilteo students wanting to participate in the National School Walkout today.

Kramer was hopeful Washington would pass SB 6620, which would require enhanced background checks for purchasing semi-automatic rifles and would raise the purchase age for those weapons from 18 to 21. The 2018 legislative session is over, and SB 6620 was not enacted into law.

Kramer said if possible, he would add mandatory training and licensing of all weapons.

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