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Monday’s gun discovery at Highland High set off an established safety protocol

A photo released by the Salt Lake City police of one of two handguns that were confiscated Monday, Sept. 26, 2022, after a pair of Highland High School students were discovered with the firearms on campus.
courtesy Salt Lake City Police Department
A photo released by the Salt Lake City police of one of two handguns that were confiscated Monday, Sept. 26, 2022, after a pair of Highland High School students were discovered with the firearms on campus.

Salt Lake City Police arrested two Highland High School students Monday after the students allegedly brought guns to school as a “status symbol.”

Salt Lake City Police Sgt. Mark Wian said the first firearm was found while school resource officers were checking a student’s backpack as part of an unrelated investigation. That launched a new criminal investigation in which officers contacted a second student and found another handgun in his backpack. Wian said the two students are brothers.

Wian said both were booked into the Salt Lake County Juvenile Detention Center on charges of possession of a weapon on school grounds and possession of a weapon by a restricted person.

After the first gun was found, Salt Lake City School District spokesperson Yándary Chatwin said the school was put on “hold.” That means hallways have to be cleared and everyone in the school has to stay where they are until an “all clear” is announced.

After the second weapon was found, the school moved to “secure alert.” Everyone was directed to get inside and all outside doors were locked.

“Once they found the second weapon and realized, ‘OK, we’re going to need to talk to more students, we’re going to need to do a broader sweep than we thought we were going to,’ that’s when we moved into the secure alert,” Chatwin said.

The next level up from a secure alert would be a school lockdown, Chatwin said. All inside and outdoor doors would be locked, lights would be turned off, and everyone would move away from windows and doors.

When it is discovered that a student in the district has brought a weapon to school, Chatwin said law enforcement is always brought in and will recommend what to do. The district has a variety of protocols that could be implemented when a student has a weapon on campus, but each incident is handled on a case-by-case basis depending on the threat.

“There’s not an if X then Y,” she said. “It’s here are the different protocols we have, we’ll assess the situation and decide which of these levels we need to take at this time.”

Chatwin said if the district had a policy that schools went into lockdown every time it was discovered that a student brought a weapon on campus, that could cause unnecessary panic. Since the students who brought guns to Highland High hadn’t made any threats against the school, Chatwin said the school didn’t go into lockdown.

Student and Safety Specialist for the state Board of Education, Rhett Larsen, said each school district and charter school in the state has to have its own emergency response plan. It’s up to each district or charter to figure out what exactly that plan looks like and to respond if a student brought a weapon on campus.

Larsen said many districts and charters use the Standard Response Protocol from the “I Love U Guys” Foundation. That protocol directs schools to hold, secure, lockdown, evacuate or shelter depending on the situation and defines what each of those responses look like. Chatwin said that protocol is used by the Salt Lake City District and was used on Monday.

While the state does not prescribe what schools should do when a weapon is brought on campus, the state Board of Education does keep track of how many times it happens.

During the 2020-2021 school year, there were 617 reported incidents of students bringing weapons on campus. A majority of the weapons in these incidents were a “knife or other sharp object,” according to the report.

There were fewer reported weapons infractions during the 2020-2021 school year than the 2019-2020 school year (681 infractions) or 2018-2019 school year (849 infractions), but the report attributed those decreases to fewer students being on campus due to the COVID-19 pandemic.

Data from the 2021-2022 school year has yet to be released.

Chatwin said in the Salt Lake City School District, most of these weapons are found because of reports directly from students or from the SafeUT app, where people can anonymously submit tips.

Martha is KUER’s education reporter.
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