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Spirit Lake Police Chief clarifies concerns on school district arming staff

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The Spirit Lake School Board is expected to meet in special session Nov. 28 and possibly take action on a proposed policy change which would allow select non-teaching staff to carry weapons and respond in the event of an active shooter. Spirit Lake Police Chief Shane Brevik clarified a number of his concerns with the proposed changes in a Nov. 16 email. Brevik recommended the board not approve the current plan. (Photo by Seth Boyes)
By Seth Boyes - News Editor

Spirit Lake's Chief of Police expressed concerns with the Spirit Lake School District's drafted plan to potentially train and arm up to 10 non-teaching staff members who could respond during an active shooter situation.

The Spirit Lake School Board was accepting public comment on its proposed plan until Monday, Nov. 21, after having voted in August to take steps toward arming select staff members. Approximately 15 staff members have undergone training on the gun range and in other simulated scenarios with Petersen Firearms Training — the business is co-owned by Okoboji Police Chief Jason Petersen and Dickinson County Chief Sheriff's Deputy Tony Petersen. The staff candidates are also expected to undergo a mental health evaluation before the district authorizes them to carry weapons in the school.

The district would purchase firearms, ammunition, holsters, safes and other equipment like flashlights and medical kits for the authorized individuals as part of the proposed policy. Staff who are authorized to carry weapons could choose to carry their personal firearm with the superintendent's approval, according to the policy. The school would also provide gun range memberships for practice and ongoing training.

The proposed plan went on to say the selected staff members would be authorized to carry a firearm on school grounds, buses, inside district buildings and at home activities and events. The individuals would not be allowed to carry weapons at school events outside the district, "unless permissible by that school district." The drafted policy would allow the staff to take the weapons home and store them in school-issued safes, but the guns are not to be used off campus. The policy says a process will be in place to document when equipment is checked out, but the current draft did not go into specifics.

The school's proposed plan was sent to families in the district on Nov. 14 — the same day the school board heard an update on the policy plans.

Spirit Lake Police Chief Shane Brevik sent the board an email clarifying his concerns about the proposed policy two days later — the district had previously released a statement in August, saying "the policy is allowed under Iowa Code and is fully supported by Dickinson County Sheriff Gregory Baloun and Spirit Lake Chief of Police Shane Brevik."

Brevik said in his Nov. 16 email to the board that he never indicated he fully supported the plan, and he feels "the idea that the district is suggesting it is forming some ad hoc tactical unit, which the plan suggests, is very concerning." The police chief said his level of support for the plan had possibly been misrepresented to the board, and he noted several issues with the school's proposed plans, such as a lack of specifics regarding annual training.

"To date, that additional training hasn't been designed or specified, so my opinion is the plan can't be approved when so many other critical pieces of the puzzle will still need to be figured out at a later time," Brevik wrote.

The police chief said he met with Spirit Lake Superintendent David Smith, as well as Spirit Lake's Director of Special Projects Angela Olsen, over the summer for what he described as a brief discussion regarding the potential decision to arm school staff. Brevik said he felt at that time the general ideas could have merit, but he also expressed concern to the school officials. He said he was informed several weeks later via an evening text message that the board had voted to move forward with the plan, and school officials wanted to confirm his support before releasing an official statement to families.

"Not much later that same evening, and without a response from me, a media release was sent out indicating the initiative was 'fully supported' by me, and I believe the same had been represented to the board at the earlier meeting," Brevik wrote. "That was not true, and I'd never indicated I fully supported anything – at the time of our brief discussion, there weren't any details provided to form an opinion about."

Brevik said arming staff "is an unworkable solution, which also has the real potential to provide a false sense of security for students, parents and school personnel and interfere with law enforcement efforts in the event of an emergency." Brevik recommended in his Nov. 16 email that the district spend more time and resources taking steps to keep weapons out of the school buildings and, if armed personnel are to be part of the district's approach, that they be trained professionals. Spirit Lake Schools has partnered with the Spirit Lake Police Department to provide a single resource officer at the school for a number of years, but Superintendent Smith estimated hiring a full-time officer for each district building would cost the school $240,000 each year — a total he feels is not sustainable.

"Times have changed, and we're literally to the point where there is not another option you have in a school district, unless you are going to have armed school resource officers in every single building full-time, being paid the full salary," Smith said during the Nov. 14 meeting.

The Spirit Lake School Board is expected to meet in a special session at 7 p.m. Monday, Nov. 28 to discuss and potentially take action to approve the drafted plan.


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