Prosser High School is one step away from having an armed security guard roaming its hallways.
The Prosser School Board gave the first of two approvals to a new policy Tuesday that would allow officer Duane Clarke to carry a concealed weapon while on the high school campus.
No board member opposed the policy. There was discussion about aspects of it, such as when deadly force is warranted and how identifiable Clarke and his weapon should be.
The board will hold a final vote on the policy in two weeks. Board members and district officials want to allow time for public reaction, they said.
“I want to cross our t’s and dot our i’s on this,” said board President Jermey Tuttle.
The board began looking at arming Clarke, a retired Benton County sheriff’s detective, several weeks ago as one of several security enhancements following the Connecticut school shooting massacre in December. Several high schools in the Mid-Columbia region have resource officers provided by local law enforcement agencies, but Prosser does not.
Board member Win Taylor thinks the policy, drafted by Superintendent Ray Tolcacher, is well done, but goes beyond the board’s initial plan to simply authorize Clarke to carry a weapon, he said. The policy also outlines the conditions under which Clarke is authorized to use a firearm.
“I’m not saying I’m opposed, I just want us to be clear on where this is at,” Taylor said.
Board member Gayle Wheeler wants to make sure Clarke and his weapon are properly identified, she said. That would minimize the risk of him being shot by law enforcement if there was a situation at the school and he was seen with a drawn gun.
Clarke, Taylor and Prosser High Assistant Principal David Funk said that shouldn’t be a concern, because Clarke is well-known at the school in his role. While there’s always a risk he could be shot, it’s more likely he will either have killed an intruder by the time police arrive or have been killed himself.
“You can’t begin to guess what it’s going to be like (during an incident),” Funk said. “I think we’re splitting hairs on a lot of things.”
The board did recommend some minor changes and clarifications to the policy before it comes back for final approval.
Tolcacher said it was difficult drafting the policy, as no other Washington district directly hires and authorizes arming its own security personnel. He told the board he is glad it chose to go through the full approval process and provide time for public input before making the new policy final.
“It’s serious stuff to carry a gun on school grounds,” he said.
In other business Tuesday, a few board members questioned the district’s approach to math and language arts education after seeing student performance on state standardized tests from last spring. Board member Bruce Matsumura was discouraged to see the equivalent of 12 out of 30 students not meeting math standards, he said.
Taylor wondered why the district allows students who are still learning English to advance in grade level when district administrators said lack of fluency affects students’ ability to understand math, he said. “That seems counterintuitive,” Taylor said.
Assistant Superintendent Mary Snitilly said it is a challenge to get all students up to standard, but the district is taking steps to remedy the issue. Holding back English language learners could actually be more damaging, as they then wouldn’t be able to learn context as easily if they didn’t stay with their class, she said.
Also Tuesday, Tolcacher asked board members to help bring in nominations for the vacant seat on the board.
It’s been nearly a month since Tim Rankin resigned because he was moving out of the state. The district has 90 days after a board member resigns to appoint a new member without having the state government step in.
Ty Beaver: 509-582-1402, firstname.lastname@example.org; Twitter: @_tybeaver