The recent school shooting in Parkland, FL, has propelled the issue of school safety to the forefront. Some believe school districts should be a gun-free zone, while others want teachers to be armed.

Others think hiring a full-time armed guard would be the solution. had the opportunity to speak with Washburn County Sheriff Terry Dryden on these topics.

Armed Teachers

We posted a question on this topic a few days ago on our Facebook page and so far the majority believe arming teachers would be a good idea.

The sheriff said if legislation is passed to allow school districts to create a gun-free zone, or if a bill gets passed allowing school districts to allow their teachers to conceal-carry, his office would be available to offer any assistance from the schools if asked. 

However, he has a few concerns if that is the route school districts want to go. 

“There is a significant amount of liability if school districts want to arm their teachers,” Sheriff Dryden said. “Will the state pass legislation indemnifying the school district and the staff member for a ‘mistake?’ And, in the event of loss of life of the innocent or bystander, who would be liable?”

“Another potential liability,” Dryden continued, “is for the teacher or the respective school district in the event of ‘non-action.’ If a teacher would fail to take action during an active shooter situation, who would be held responsible?”

He also questioned who would maintain the teachers’ certification, provide training, and advanced training for the weapons and active-shooter situations. 

Further, Dryden said if teachers were armed, they could potentially become a target. “It would just be a matter of time before students would know who is and isn’t ‘carrying’ and that would make them potential targets.” 

Armed Guard

Another option some school districts are considering is having a single full-time armed guard at a school or school district. Once again, Dryden sees several flaws with this idea.

“First of all, it would need to be the right type of guard — which would be hard to find in most school districts, but especially those schools in rural communities. If you did find this person, what would he or she be? It should never be an armed school guard with many years of law enforcement service who is put into the job just to wait out retirement. They should never allow an armed school guard to be an officer who is physically unfit for the job.”

But, the biggest issue the veteran sheriff of 27 years has with hiring a full-time armed guard is the inevitability of complacency.  “Regardless if they hire a veteran or former law enforcement officer entering his twilight years, this could be a mind-numbing job; the tendency would be one of complacency no matter who was deployed.”

Dryden said, “Before you know it, the armed guard is watching the kids’ soccer practice. The full-time armed guard’s awareness and effectiveness will be reduced the longer they are there.”

Lastly, Dryden is concerned over what happens when this lone guard is sick or needs to take time off. “It would be hard enough for rural school districts to find one ideal candidate to work full-time. So in order to have contingencies in place, you would need more than one.” Something Dryden says would be challenging for most rural areas.

“Even if you have three guards; one for the Elementary, Middle, and High School, when one officer is not there, it creates an opportunity, and in my experience, bad guys wanting to do bad things seize these opportunities.”

Trained Law Enforcement Officers on a Rotation

Dryden’s answer? Let the professionals handle it. “It is my opinion that there should be a full-time law enforcement officer, not a ‘hired gun,’ so to speak, off the street or semi-retired. 

“The school law enforcement officer position would best be filled by one or more officers of an already certified law enforcement agency, either within the city or county, depending on where the school district lies.

“It would make sense to me to hire young, physically fit, mentally quick, well-trained officers who are given the job of protecting our kids. I would schedule different deputies throughout the week to keep them fresh and ready for any situation.

“They would need to be an addition to the School Resource Officer (SRO). The armed guard position should not be used as an SRO, juvenile or liaison officer for the district."

He added, “You do not want your multi-tasked deputy sheriff SRO and armed security tied up in a meeting buried in some back room of the school because of a misbehaving student when an incident starts in the main entrance. Armed security guards must be utilized just for that purpose only.”

Dryden emphasized the need for a daily rotation to keep the officers/deputies fresh and alert. He also said schools need to be locked down, starting with installing bullet-proof glass on the bottom windows around the school, keep all side/back doors closed and locked at all times, and replace the glass doors in the front entrance with secured steel doors.  

“Similar to a prison,” we asked?

“I’ve heard that analogy before,” Dryden said. “If you have ever been to a prison you would know this is nothing like that. But if that’s how they want to refer to it, fine. Parents and communities to need ask themselves ’Do you want your kids to be safe or don’t you?’”

And who will be paying for this?  

Admittedly, Dryden said that everything he mentioned would cost a lot of money to 'harden' schools and to place trained law enforcement officers in the school districts. “Will the city, county, state, or federal government provide funds? Who knows?"

Final Statement

Sheriff Dryden concluded by offering this written statement:

“I am a supporter of our Second Amendment. I believe in concealed carry of a firearm by the mentally balanced, trained and lawfully permitted.

“I have to tell you I am not sure the framers of our Second Amendment Constitutional rights would have envisioned a mentally unstable shooter, carrying a rapid-fire firearm of any type, with a high-capacity magazine walking into our schools and businesses and killing many people in a short period of time.

“These acts are not protecting ourselves or others from tyranny from the government. This is senseless murder. But, this will be debated for weeks, months, and years to come and rightfully so.

We need consistent, comprehensive firearm background checks, and it has to be the same nationwide. We need society to step up and say ‘enough is enough’ and we will ‘Say Something if we See Something.’ We cannot let the failings of some agencies deter ‘We The People’ from doing what is right, for the right reason and at the right time. My fear is just like after Sandy Hook, there is a lot of talking, however, kids will continue to die and our legislators will continue to stand idly by."

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