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ND troopers could offer sense of security at schools under state proposal

North Dakota State Superintendent of Public Instruction Kirsten Baesler. Submitted photo

FARGO — North Dakota Highway Patrol troopers could soon have space at public schools in the state that lack a law enforcement presence under a proposal that's now being finalized.

Lt. Michael Roark, a safety and education officer, said it would be a win-win situation because state troopers now spend about 20 percent of their time doing paperwork in their vehicles. If the proposal happens, that time could instead be spent in a rural school where their presence might be needed.

Troopers are already involved at public schools through safety talks and the school bus inspection program.

Roark said if the plan goes into effect, troopers will be in and out of the schools, continuing highway inspection while engaging students and being available to them.

State Superintendent of Public Instruction Kirsten Baesler said that the recent shooting in Parkland, Fla., has prompted an added sense of nervousness and fear, and believes this plan could prevent a threat or attack.

But the idea has been in the works for more than a year after it was raised by Col. Mike Gerhart following an ongoing discussion about school safety in the state.

"Current events didn't prompt this," Roark said.

"North Dakota's youth may not be the largest demographic, but they are 100 percent of our future," added Roark, who has three kids of his own.

Baesler, too, said the plan could be a win-win.

"Having the opportunity to interact with a Highway Patrol person and just the presence of a patrol vehicle in the parking lot, it may thwart what would have been a day of disaster," she said.

She clarified those troopers wouldn't take on all of the same responsibilities as a student resource officer, which is a law enforcement officer specifically assigned to a school.

Baesler and other state education leaders met at her Bismarck office Thursday, March 1, to talk about school safety issues that could be part of the agenda for the 2019 legislative session, according to a news release. The group's top priorities include training to identify potential safety threats, improving the safety of school buildings and expanding access to school resource officers and behavioral health specialists.

Members of the group said they understand why some North Dakotans believe teachers should be armed, but they believe there are better solutions. Proposals to allow North Dakota teachers to carry guns in school have been defeated in the last three sessions of the state Legislature. Chad Oban, director of North Dakota United that represents teachers and other public employees said his organization has asked teachers if they favor being armed in class, and he said they overwhelmingly oppose the idea.

"We know that everybody is working toward the same goal, which is to keep our students safe," Oban said. "We just don't believe that arming teachers is the best approach. We think there are other, better ways to keep our kids safe."

Baesler said subsequent meetings are planned, and that process will be broadened to include parents, teachers, students, law enforcement, rural schools, human services workers, and other stakeholders.

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