Eastern Washington school district’s armed administrator policy gives families ‘peace of mind’

BENTON CITY, Wash. – Families are mourning the loss of their loved ones following multiple shootings in recent weeks across the country. Three more victims in the Uvalde, Texas school shooting were laid to rest on Thursday. A gunman killed 19 kids and two teachers more than a week ago at Robb Elementary.

The scene of the shooting and the aftermath continue to haunt parents time and time again. Mom Kim Philip grieves with those suffering parents with kids who will never return home.

“You expect to pick them up. I can’t even imagine how, as a parent, you would react,” Philip said, getting emotional. “You don’t get to tuck your baby in that night but I think we can do so much more.”

Philip believes more school staff should be armed to protect children. Her two daughters’ school district, the Kiona-Benton City School District, is one of the very few districts in Washington that have armed administrators.

Superintendent Pete Peterson would not disclose how many staff are armed, nor did he say who is armed citing safety reasons. Those armed could include any district-level staff or administrators including a principal.

“A sufficient number. I don’t want to go into the specifics of how many in the district,” he said. “Suffice to say, a sufficient number to ensure that it puts our staff and students in a safe place.”

Peterson believes the board’s policy that was made in 2015 is “forward-thinking.”  The school district only has one school resource officer across its three schools right outside the Tri-Cities.

“Our local agency is the Benton County Sheriff’s Office. I think anytime you’re a rural school district, maybe, 10 to 15 minutes away at best from an armed response, then I think a school district has to take a look than some other school districts that may have a faster response time,” he said.

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Under Washington law, school districts are allowed to choose their safety officers. That includes contracting with law enforcement, hiring someone specifically to fill that role, or – like the Kiona-Benton City School District is doing – arm administrators.

While it is allowed, State Superintendent Chris Reykdal says he is “not a fan” of arming administrators.

“On every one of these circumstances, I ask, ‘Are these people really prepared, from a psychological standpoint, to kill one of their own children in their school in a dangerous situation?'” he questioned.

Peterson said the people armed know what they’re getting into.

“Folks who volunteered for that made a conscious decision that they could be heading towards a problem if it comes down to it, as opposed to defending from the outside,” he said.

Reykdal said he’d rather have administrators armed than teachers, as teachers are around students more often instructing compared to district-level staff or admins.

“We’ve seen even the most well-trained law enforcement officers at schools or grocery stores, who are there to protect against an active gunman fail to do that. So, I struggle to understand why any teacher or administrator is any better prepared to do that,” Reykdal said.

He reiterates that the decision is at the local level, believing that districts will do what they feel is best for them, but he thinks it is a “dangerous slippery slope.”

He believes more guns create more suicide and murders. A study done by the Journal of the American Medical Association says the rate of death with armed guard presence increased in schools.

“You’re bringing a gun into a school. There is a risk that it is used in a domestic violence dispute, a suicide, a response to aggravation, excessive use of force,” Reykdal said. “I think there are as many dangers as there are upsides, and each district that chooses this has to balance those. ”

While Reykdal has his opinions and has the expectation these armed administrators are trained correctly and the guns are put away in a safe place. Reykdal added that “there’s a lack of information” at the state level about districts arming administrators.

“Avoiding this situation in the first place is always our best-case scenario, and unfortunately there are districts who say and we want to be ready in case there is an active shooter and they take it the next step,” Reykdal continued. “The key is securing the firearm and the effective training of those folks and then really exhausting all options before you ever consider [arming] an administrator.”

Peterson assures families that its staff is trained and continue to get trained quarterly with law enforcement. He wouldn’t say whether or not district staff and administrators have the gun on their person or locked away, however, the district’s website says they “shall carry their firearm concealed at all times.”

Qualifications to be voluntarily armed, Peterson says, consist of a person passing the concealed carry permit and passing classroom training. Armed administrators are also not required to undergo psychological evaluation but the district said it could ask someone to do it if they feel it’s needed.

The question now is if teachers could be armed. Peterson said at this point, no teachers have asked for it.

“Nor have any of the local decision-makers come up with a good plan to include the teaching staff,” he said.

4 News Now reached out to the Kiona-Benton City School District’s Education Association, which provided this statement:

“I don’t think the union has an official position on whether or not select administrators carry firearms in the school. We are in favor of policies that keep our students safe, and the select administrators who carry firearms are trained and qualified to do so.”

Peterson says arming administrators is only one part of a bigger plan to keep students safe. The district has other measures in place, including a single-point entry for visitors. He says the firearm policy for administrators has been successful, though, the district has had no administrators pull a gun.

“I think the success of any school safety plan is – are your students safe on a daily basis?” Peterson said of how he measures the success of this program.

This is a policy that will continue, with the support of parents like Philip, who believe it’s another step that will help her kids come home.

“I think that we really need to step up the care we have and the protection we have. Unfortunately, though, it’s the world we live in. Instead of hiding under a rock, we need to come up with solutions and ways to fix it or at least protect ourselves and our kids,” Philip said.

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