IDAHO FALLS, Idaho — Students, parents, teachers and community leaders dotted the cafeteria at the College of Eastern Idaho in Idaho Falls, on Saturday, April 21.
“This meeting is an opportunity to learn about, discuss and act on short-term preparation and prevention of nationally trending tragedies as they relate to our local school district,” Shelane Tuttle, the event’s organizer said. “This collaboration is not a discussion on bullying, gun control or mental health. We recognize that they are intertwined, sister topics and they cannot be separated. But, today our time and our resources are dedicated toward the specific topic of securing our schools.”
Six groups and representatives talked about their area of expertise. Captain William Squires of the Idaho Falls Police Department spoke about what law enforcement is doing to respond appropriately and plan effectively against attacks on schools, while Sarah Sanders and Rebecca Chidester spoke about the district’s plan to protect students and institute preventative measures. Each group echoed the same message in one way or another.
“Our schools can become soft targets,” Jenny Michelson, an Idaho Falls resident and representative for parents at the event, said. “What I mean by that is it’s too easy to enter our schools unchecked. Simply put, it’s took easy to achieve access to our children…we should not allow it to be so easy. We should harden the target.”
But, perhaps the most memorable message came from the students themselves. Several Idaho Falls High School students chose dialogue instead of protest to list their concerns about school safety.
“The single biggest problem in education is the illusion that it has taken place,” one student said, quoting George Bernard Shaw. “Our communication with our school district is a long line of ‘Telephone,’ where we send messages desperately needing them to get to the administrators. We have no idea if the message we originally intended gets to the administrator the same. It can be warped, changed and be vastly incorrect by the time it gets to them. The same is true the other way around. Administrators are trying to send us information about threats and about certain things and they get warped before they get to us too, making us have inaccurate, untimely information.”
Among the causes in the communication breakdown, students said, is a lack of knowledge of what administration and district officials and law enforcement were doing to keep students safe. Using the example of a recent school threat scare when a resident sent post cards to several families with the picture of a gun and words, “coming to a school near you,” students described how they learned about the later debunked threat.
“I heard so many rumors that day that were all very different,” one student said. “I heard everything from bomb threats, to shooting threats, to someone specifically said they were coming to Idaho Falls and that it was nothing and we should just go on as usual.”
Looking forward, students said they hope school and law enforcement would relay messages more simply and accurately to disrupt the rumor mill and involve students in prevention efforts.
“Please tell us the plan,” a student said. “Even if it isn’t a super, great, 100 percent, awesome, finished plan, because of all the people that need to know, it’s us.”
But, students also emphasized they should not be the end all in law enforcement and school’s efforts to prevent future disasters.
“While we want to be part of the plan and we want to know the details of the plan, we don’t want to be the plan,” one student said. “We were recently presented at Idaho Falls High School with a system for anonymously giving tips to the resource officers about things that we may have over heard in our school. In the presentation we were frankly told that if we didn’t want violence in our schools, it was up to us, it was our responsibility. We were told that school shootings didn’t happen in the schools that had good communication and that put a lot of weight on our shoulders…if we are the plan, when something happens, does that make us the responsible party?”
Their concluding remarks certainly hit home for the officials present at the conversation, as students turned the colloquial “see something, say something,” method back on community members.
“We’d like to give adults a reciprocal challenge, if you hear us say something, please do something,” a students said.
District officials and law enforcement responded to the student’s concerns immediately and expressed their appreciation for the student’s frankness.
“I appreciate you being here today, sharing your concern and giving us perspectives through your eyes because that’s what we’re all here for, is to protect you,” Sarah Sanders, Director of Secondary Education for Idaho Falls School District 91, said. “I think what I just heard is we don’t always communicate that to you and you’d like more of that, so we’re happy to do that. Thank you.”
Students said they walked away from the conversation encouraged and enlightened, especially as they gained a better perspective about the active efforts community members have already been taking to improve school safety.
“[My trust in school officials and law enforcement has] definitely increased I’d say because I never really understood, you know, why do we do the things we do in our schools, why are the drills the way they are, why won’t people, you know, actively give us this information, that we’re obviously wanting,” Abby McAllister, a student at Idaho Falls High School, told KID Newsradio. “Just getting the answers to the questions that I’ve had since I was really little about the way our school system works has made me definitely more confident that people actually have an idea what they’re doing in our safety.”