Thu, 03/01/2018 - 12:12pm admin
Hardin High School updating policies to stop potential shootings
By Andrew Turck / Big Horn County News
Hardin High School is updating security procedures in response to recent incidents involving firearms in schools, both on local grounds and nationwide.
Signs on the doors of Hardin High state that, starting Monday, March 5, students will be required to arrive only through the Miles Avenue entrance at the front of the school near Imer Field. The school’s Terry Avenue entrance will be closed off to everyone by 8:20 a.m. each weekday, Principal Rob Hankins said, “so we can have more control over who’s coming and going.”
Next year, he said, the school will move both the attendance office and Student Resource Officer Orlene Howe from the Terry entrance to the one on Miles Avenue. School officials also plan to install “security doors” that require IDs to enter the building. According to Hankins, administrator Tina Toyne will “buzz people in.”
“Over the past [month], we’ve had plenty of scares, whether they be from Florida or here,” he said. “I think we need to take every precaution to ensure we are safe.”
The security doors will “go hand-in-hand” with the school fire systems, Hankins said, and personnel will be able to activate them at the touch of a button. Students will need to park at the Terry entrance – the Miles one will be reserved for visitors and staff – but Hankins said accommodations can be made for students who have physical disabilities.
“There probably will be only two doors accessible at all for staff throughout the day,” he said. “I don’t know if we’re going to let people use any more of these doors.”
Cited firearm incidents began on Jan. 26, when 17-year-old former Hardin High student Uttekaat Birdinground is alleged to have brought a gun to school, hid it in his waistband and attempted to use it to steal lunch money from another student. Former art teacher Nora Block, 42, then allegedly attempted to conceal the firearm when she learned about it from Birdinground and pretend she had found it while cleaning the Art Room.
“[Undersheriff Michael Fuss] and Deputy Howe…reviewed surveillance video from Jan. 26, showing Uttekaat Birdinground walking around the school, holding his waistband and looking into the principal’s office, who was not in the building,” court documents state. “The video then showed [him] going into the Art Room and remaining there for nearly three hours before being taken from the room by a teacher.”
School was shut down on Friday, Feb. 2 due to alleged threats from Birdinground. He was apprehended by the Bureau of Indian Affairs and FBI near Garryowen that afternoon without incident. As of last Thursday, Birdinground was expelled and Block was fired.
The second incident, this time nearly 2,500 miles away, occurred Feb. 14 when a shooter claimed the lives of 17 students at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School in Parkland, Fla.
Hankins said Hardin High School is in the process of updating their crisis manuals in order to properly respond to a potential shooter. Patrick J. Hoy, a former combat tactician for the U.S. Air Force, is scheduled to do threat assessment for the school through his Billings-based company, PJJH Survival Perspectives.
While some political officials nationwide – in response to the Florida shooting – have suggested schools arm teachers to respond to potential shooters, Hankins said “there’s no way in heck.” Students are in close contact with teachers throughout the day, he said, and something could go wrong.
“I think that’s silly,” he said. “You’re trained to use a firearm, but what happens if someone takes that from you and doesn’t know how to use it?”
As of Tuesday, Birdinground and Block were arraigned at the Big Horn County Courthouse by Judge Blair Jones, where both pleaded not guilty to their charges.
Birdinground is accused of attempted robbery – a felony punishable by imprisonment for “not less than two years and not to exceed 40 years,” according to court documents. He also is accused of two misdemeanors: carrying a concealed weapon and possession of a weapon in a school building.
Block is accused of tampering with physical evidence – a felony whose sentence may not exceed 10 years, court documents state. She also is accused of two misdemeanors: possession of a weapon in a school building and obstructing a peace officer.
Birdinground has posted his $50,000 bond and Block her $25,000 bond, and both are allowed outside the jail as per a release order issued by Judge Mary Jane Knisely.
Jones ordered Birdinground to keep 1,500 feet away from all Hardin schools or school events, wear a GPS tracking system, adhere to a 9 p.m. curfew, and stay off social media. There is one possible exception to the rule regarding schools: he will be allowed to prepare for the HiSet test at the Big Horn County Library.
Block was ordered to avoid contact with any witnesses to the alleged event or any Hardin High School students – with the exception of her children.
Like Hankins, Jones stressed that he took school security seriously. At the conclusion of Birdinground’s arraignment, he warned the defendant that if he stepped out of line, there would be no tolerance.
“Let me be very clear, Mr. Birdinground, this community and everyone in it has a keen interest the safety of the children at school,” Jones said. “If there is a breach of [terms], then I will jail you pending trial on this matter.”
In the meantime, Hankins said, Big Horn County Sheriff’s deputies will continue to check up on the high school when their schedule allows.