Packing Heat 

Controversial plan to arm North Idaho school staff triggers recall effort of trustee

Tom Bokowy, one of the leaders behind the Steve Youngdahl recall, reviews petition signatures at his Sandpoint office.

Cameron Rasmussen

Tom Bokowy, one of the leaders behind the Steve Youngdahl recall, reviews petition signatures at his Sandpoint office.

Hundreds of people filled the seats at the Sandpoint High School auditorium Oct. 8, 2013--a crowd you might expect to see at a high-school musical. But no one was there to be entertained. A tightly coiled tension simmered throughout the room.

It was the first--and only--opportunity for public comment on a controversial policy to arm Lake Pend Oreille School District staff. As proposed by school district trustee Steve Youngdahl, the policy would see select staff carrying concealed weapons. As an added measure of safety, the weapons would be equipped with an Intelligun system--a device that locks a pistol's firing mechanism until it reads registered fingerprints.

At first glance, Tom Bokowy and Bill Aitken aren't dissimilar from Youngdahl. All three are family men with strong ties to their community. Just as Youngdahl is a public official, so too is Aitken, appointed to a vacant seat on the Sandpoint City Council. Yet these very similar men would become the leaders in a charge to recall Youngdahl.

Youngdahl first proposed his armed staff policy, citing the at-least-20-minute response time for emergency personnel to reach Clark Fork Junior-Senior High School, one of LPOSD's most rural facilities.

"Our campuses are vulnerable," Youngdahl argued. "When seconds count, we need a first line of defense."

Youngdahl maintained that armed staff would be more effective, backing his assertion with data indicating a mass shooting stopped by law enforcement yielded an average 14 wounded individuals, while one halted by civilians produced about two-and-a-half casualties.

Youngdahl's numbers prompted Bokowy and Aitken to examine his sources. Youngdahl pointed to an article published on by author David Barker. Bokowy said Barker, a libertarian blogger, couldn't be trusted as an objective statistician. Furthermore, Bokowy took issue with Barker's methodology.

Youngdahl insisted that his numbers were backed up by an unnamed Homeland Security agent. Bokowy and Aitken requested a meeting with the agent to no avail. They said that was another reason for them to move forward with their effort to recall Youngdahl.

A mere 104 signatures were all it took to launch a recall election--and Bokowy and Aitken collected a sufficient number in about two months. The Bonner County Clerk has already confirmed that the special recall election is set for Tuesday, March 11.

But the recall effort has itself proven as controversial as Youngdah's proposal. Youngdahl supporters--and even some of his critics--say that the recall effort amounts to an unwarranted show of political force. Even the editorial board of the Moscow-Pullman Daily News expressed a similar sentiment in an editorial.

"We vehemently disagree with Youngdahl's proposal of arming teachers and believe it would only endanger students and staff, but his action doesn't indicate he is unfit to fulfill his term or that it warrants immediate removal from office," wrote the Daily News.

Meanwhile, Youngdahl--who was elected to his third four-year term on the LPOSD board in May 2013--said he won't back down, and that it was his duty as a trustee to bring the issue to the public.

"This is how options are considered and debated--this is how the process works," he said. "However, those who are [behind the recall] are acting on the misinformation that I have been on a lone crusade to arm school staff."

There's at least one thing that almost everyone agrees on, however, and that's a concern for the security of LPOSD schools. District Superintendent Shawn Woodward said he's spearheading a plan that includes facility upgrades, new security training for staff and the eventual addition of a school resource officer in the district's rural western edge.

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