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'Schools Are No Place For Guns,' Whitefish Superintendent Says

Whitefish Middle School sign on a door.
Josh Burnham
Montana Public Radio
Whitefish Middle School.

The superintendent of schools in Whitefish has come out against arming teachers. Not everyone in the community agrees.

Superintendent Heather Davis Schmidt doesn’t mince words in her latest column in the Whitefish Pilot.

"I think arming our staff members creates a sense of a lack of safety, and I don't think that's the sense we want to create," Davis Schmidt says.

In her column, Davis Schmidt writes, "Schools are no place for guns," and emphasizes that the focus instead should be on addressing the day-to-day safety issues her 1,800 students face.

Her column went up Tuesday afternoon and she’s already taking heat for it. One commenter to the Whitefish Pilot’s website under the username Freya Freki wrote, "Gun free zones are easy targets for terrorists and sick people. Teachers should have the option to responsibly carry."

Davis Schmidt’s column comes a few weeks ahead of a March 20 meeting, where members of the recently formed Safety and Security Citizens Work Group will make recommendations to the Whitefish School District Board of Trustees about strengthening security.

The Whitefish work group formed last fall following a cyber-terror attack against area schools. It’s made up of law enforcement, teachers, school administrators and staff, local business owners, mental health experts and parents.

Davis Schmidt says the goal is, "To help us really have this discussion about what does it mean to be safe and secure in Whitefish schools."

That discussion addresses three fronts. One is securing the physical environment of the school with modern security technology, including cameras and alarms. Second is training teachers and staff with “Run, Lock, Fight” techniques, in collaboration with local law enforcement. Davis Schmidt says her district is a leader in the Flathead Valley for this training and that Whitefish schools are working with other districts. Third, which Davis Schmidt says is most important, is creating a safe and inclusive school culture.

"It's not just one or the other, it really does take all three of those measures," she says.

Davis Schmidt added mental health support staff are embedded in Whitefish schools, and that schools seek to braid academic and behavioral supports into the school culture.

The Work Group will present its recommendations to the Whitefish School District Board of Trustees at their March 20 meeting.

Former Whitefish student Chet Billi proposed a citizen initiated bill in 2016 to allow teachers with valid conceal carry permits to bring concealed handguns to school. It didn't get enough signatures to get on the ballot. Billi ran as a Republican to represent Whitefish in the state legislature in 2016 but was defeated by Democrat Dave Fern.

Nicky is MTPR's Flathead-area reporter.
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