By Mitti Hicks
Published January 17, 2019
BUTLER COUNTY, Iowa -- In this rural community, which has a population of roughly 1,400, school leaders say it’s not uncommon for kids to encounter guns at a young age with popular activities such as fishing and hunting.
It's part of the reason why the school district’s superintendent, Joel Foster, is moving forward with implementing a hunter’s safety course in two middle schools this spring.
The week-long training program will train students on a variety of survival skills, including gun safety.
“Our job and what we do best is education and educating our kids is a lot better than having them learn about these things on the street,” he said.
The school district has debated the program for years, but after the recent death of a Clarksville High School student as a result of an accidental shooting while he was fishing with friends pushed the need further. Kain Allen Schild was 15 when he died last May.
“With the number of weapons in our area and the access to them in the homes, I think it’s important that we do these things,” Foster said.
The class will be mandatory under the district’s physical education curriculum but according to Foster, no parent in the district have opted out of the course.
If parents choose to remove their student from the training, they will go to a study hall instead.
Members of the local Department of Natural Resources and experts from the Butler County Conservation Board will help guide the students.
“The program will start out with why we do hunter’s education and then the ways of how firearms work and then we move on to safe handling methods,” said Steve Martin, a naturalist for the Butler County Conservation Board.
DNR staff will spend a week going through gun safety with unloaded guns, basic survival and first aid skills, water safety, wildlife identification, and more. Once 10 hours worth of in-class training and homework is complete, students will receive a certificate of completion from the local DNR.
While school leaders say that the ultimate goal is safety, critics are concerned that students are simply too young.
"Middle schoolers haven't developed the cognitive capacity of an adult to rationally understand the risk of firearms, and they likely can't tell the difference between having a loaded and unloaded gun," said Kyleanne Hunter, vice president for programs at the Brady Campaign To Prevent Gun Violence. "We know from Government Accountability Office reports that child safety programs don't work. As adults, we have a responsibility for safe stewardship of weapons. Expecting children to practice safe storage on our behalf just isn't responsible.
With the recent school shootings and data from the American Academy of Pediatrics revealing that 1,300 children die and more than 5,700 are treated for gunshot wounds each year, opponents say the school’s decision is tone deaf.
The school disagrees.
“We have conditions in this country that have made this a political debate and it’s really not a political debate for us we feel like we’re doing right for our community," Foster said.
With scheduling, some students will have to take the class at night. The school's superintendent said he plans to have all seventh and eighth-grade students enrolled in the day program by fall.