With dialogue opening across the U.S. and Olympic Peninsula, community members are once again asking about Sequim School District’s safety.
In light of the shooting at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School in Parkland, Fla., that killed 17 people on Feb. 14, Sequim community members and parents shared an array of opinions and options at the Sequim School Board meeting on March 5.
Some asked to volunteer as guards in front of schools while others asked to keep security to law enforcement.
Jack Singleton, a Carlsborg resident and US Army veteran, proposes he and other other retired military, police enforcement and/or security would volunteer to guard schools with or without weapons.
“The children of the school district rely on the seniors and parents to take care of them because they can’t take care of themselves out there,” Singleton told school board directors Monday night.
“I know our police department doesn’t have the resources to bring the people that have the security over there so I have asked a lot of the retired military and retired police, teachers, anyone that could volunteer to be security over there to come forward, with or without weapons, as long as we’re on the grounds, not in the building unless you’re asked to come into the building.”
Singleton held up a $1,000 check to donate to the school district to start a fund for security in Sequim’s schools.
“Even if you don’t use the military or police at least maybe we could come up with a fund to help the police department,” he said. “We need something because the next shooter is out there, we just hope it’s not in Sequim.”
Husband and wife Jerry and Tiffany Mote shared some of Singleton’s sentiment.
“I have a kid in elementary, middle, and high school here at Sequim School District, and my background is I’m a former Navy SEAL, so on my conscience I think we’re kind of doing a poor job in our district,” Jerry Mote said. “I think every moment we’re not doing something proactive we’re rolling the dice every day. Looking at it from the outside, I think cops are kind of reactive and we need to be proactive.”
Following national discussions, Jerry Mote said protecting students shouldn’t come down to teachers.
“A team needs to be formed to come up with those ideas to be proactive and reactive; teachers aren’t there to protect kids,” he said. “I’m not asking teachers to take this on.”
“Educators are not equipped to deal with this sort of defensive strategic planning,” Tiffany Mote said.
“So if there’s one thing we can do it should be to create a committee that is solely focused on that.”
Jon Eekhoff, a spokesperson for Sequim’s teachers union Sequim Education Association, told the Gazette that the teachers he’s in contact with aren’t in favor of taking up arms/security.
Eekhoff said many security issues could have been addressed in any of the four failed bonds in recent years starting with the April 2014 $154 million construction bond or the most recent Feb. 2016 bond proposal of $54 million.
“It’s frustrating when safety was one of the primary things when the bonds were proposed,” he said.
At Sequim High School, where he teaches, Eekhoff said “there are simple things that are common sense that aren’t being done” such as for teachers being able to lock their doors from either side of a door.
More community members offered different approaches on Monday, such as Larry Jeffryes, a retired teacher of 35 years, who suggested speaking to staff about safety procedures.
“My question to myself was what could we do right now that doesn’t cost any money?” Jeffryes said.
“And the only thing I could come up with is to look at the safety and security plans now as they exist, and obviously they have to be reviewed and checked. I’d like to see people go into the buildings and talk to staff and people that carry this out and take a hard look at are the procedures being followed?”
Sequim resident Karen Hogan said she doesn’t think enrolling volunteers is a good way to protect students.
“I assume we’re going to have some kind of protection for the schools, but I don’t think it’s a good idea to have volunteers,” Hogan said.
“I think it needs to come through law enforcement because that makes it accountable to the community and we can be sure they’re well trained. I would like to ask we leave any safety for the schools and armed guards for law enforcement.”
Police chief speaks
Sequim Police Chief Sheri Crain said she’s been in ongoing discussions with Sequim superintendent Gary Neal for quite some time about school safety concerns. She said law enforcement continues to work towards being more proactive in preventing incidents but is doing so with limited resources and increased regulations.
“A vast amount of what we can do is reactive,” she said of incidents.
“Everyone since Columbine has worked better on reacting faster to an incident and we’re trying to be more proactive but as we’ve learned, especially in Florida, reactive doesn’t get you far.”
Crain encourages people to be proactive in reporting unusual and/or suspicious behavior and said as a community we need to ask ourselves an array of questions about mental health treatment, gun laws and more.
“I’m appreciative of people asking these questions,” she said. “They can ask them of Gary and me but in reality we can only address and speak to so much. At the end of the day, our community, state and country need to be the ones to act.”
She said safety concerns remain at Helen Haller Elementary and Sequim High School because they are difficult to secure.
“It comes down to people making decisions and the legislature,” she said.
Sequim school campuses in Sequim city limits do have School Resource Officer Randy Kellas during school hours but Crain said his purpose isn’t to be a security guard bur rather to work with students on preventative measures and staying in school.
Crain said Kellas does provide a slightly quicker response to any possible threat in the schools but it “doesn’t mean the threat isn’t going to have a good 2-3 minutes before law enforcement gets to them.”
She said when community conversations continue, she hopes they aren’t narrowly focused to one topic.
“It’s not that any one thing is wrong, it’s just that the conversation is definitely more, like funding for school psychologists, funding for safer buildings, mental health — a whole host of things that need to be talked about,” Crain said.
Sequim schools safety
On Monday, School Board President Heather Short said the board has not had a formal discussion on school safety recently.
“Our conversation is ongoing and we don’t have a position at this point because we’re still discussing options,” she said.
Last week, Neal sent out a letter to Sequim parents/ guardians about school safety.
In the letter, he said the Florida tragedy led district officials to review its safety plans and practices through partnerships with local and regional emergency agencies.
“Safety is not negotiable,” he said in the letter. “The staff at Sequim School District regard student safety as the highest priority.”
He said two years ago an active shooter drill was practiced at Greywolf Elementary School and since then the district has developed a Critical Incident Response Quick Guide that was distributed to every classroom.
The state requires every school district to practice nine drills in the school year, Neal said, and that the district can choose what kind of drill they want to facilitate, such as an earthquake, fire, active shooter drill, etc.
He said for 2019, the district is planning to facilitate another crisis drill with local emergency and law enforcement agencies.
Neal also said the district encourages empowering students to report potential safety threats.
Next week, a national 17-minute school walkout is scheduled at 10 a.m. on Wednesday, March 14, to raise awareness and encourage Congress to take action on gun violence happening at schools, on the streets, in communities and places of worship around the country.
Neal said if that were to happen at Sequim schools he would view the walkout as an opportunity to discuss the issue.
“If (students) are looking at a way they want to get some opportunity to have a conversation I think we need to allow that to happen and not for it to be a punitive thing,” he said.
“If something like that were to happen in our district, we’re going to look at it as an opportunity.”
No walkout plans have been announced in Sequim yet.
For more information on Sequim schools, visit www.sequimschools.org or call 360-582-3260.