‘Seconds save lives’: Lakeland School District searches for fourth armed guard

RATHDRUM, Idaho — The Lakeland School District is the only district in Idaho to have full-time armed guards, in addition to their school resource officers. Their district spans Rathdrum, Spirit Lake, and Athol. In the case of an emergency, it can take up to 30 minutes for law enforcement to reach a school.

“Situations start and end much quicker than 30 minutes,” said Lisa Arnold, assistant superintendent for the district.

The district’s goal is looking to hire their 4th armed guard, to protect an elementary school in Rathdrum. That way, in the case of an emergency, it takes just seconds for an armed guard to respond instead of minutes.

“Initially when we first opened it, we didn’t get a lot of applicants, which actually I was a little bit surprised about,” she said. “Since Uvalde, we probably have double the number of applicants.”

All of the armed guards in the district are former law enforcement officers that have been through a thorough vetting process. Mirroring the same hiring practices as local law enforcement, prospective applicants go through interviews with parents, staff, and students. They also have to pass a polygraph test, a psychological evaluation,  physical, and medical testing. All of the armed guards are experts in de-escalation.

“When we hire teachers we want them fully focused on teaching kids, and when you’re somebody that’s tasked with keeping the school safe, it’s hard,” Arnold said. “Your attention’s diverted and we want the focus on the kids.”

The armed guard at Athol Elementary School has over two decades of experience with the New Mexico State Police.

John Hatcher, the armed guard at Lakeland High School had a combined 13 years of experience with local law enforcement.

“My first job here is to do whatever it takes to protect the students and staff at this school, and if that means lethal force? I am more than ready to do it,” he said.

He explained, their roles also include having good relationships with the students.

“There’s social media, there’s ways you can pry in and look at things, but the kids are the ones that can tell you what’s going on, and that’s important,” Hatcher said.

The armed guards all have handguns, but also have rifles they have access to. They also receive regular up-to-date training. The district plans to add additional guards over the next few years.

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