The Corvallis School Board voted 4-2, on April 10, against starting a Shooting Sports Club.
Civil discourse occurred as over 16 community members, parents, teachers, shooting club members and veterans calmly expressed their thoughts, experiences and concerns on a proposal by Superintendent Tim Johnson to form a Shooting Sports Club.
Johnson said he felt that the school’s role in education is to teach students correct use of all tools – including cell phones, automobiles and guns. He said the club would increase interaction among peers, adults and the larger community and provide mentorship opportunities.
Johnson’s other reasons for the club include: safety, a controlled environment, and gender and disability equity.
“I feel we have an obligation to be involved at some level when it comes to a topics like, in this case, a Shooting Sports Club,” Johnson said. “I think that out of respect for what has been going on in our country it is something that has to be considered.”
Johnson said that he worries every day.
“I don’t know what is going to happen although we have a great safety plan,” he said. “We work towards that goal of providing the safest place that we can.”
He said that in his 21 years in education the topic of guns is usually avoided by public schools.
“I often hear ‘well, this is Montana – there is hunting,’” Johnson said. “My perspective is we put our foot in the arena – we don’t need to jump all the way in, but have a role in it.”
Julie Shairer said shooting is a good family activity.
“My daughters Emalia, Nyssa and Hasalyn shoot archery, air-rifle, air pistol and shotgun through 4-H,” Shairer said. “They have been at state competition and they love it. There are 2,600 kids in Montana in shooting sports.”
She said benefits from the activity include life skills, growth and decision-making.
“Being part of shooting sports you have that sense of belonging,” Shairer said.
Supporters identified themselves from local shooting teams and clubs.
Dan Ashmore said he was excited about the potential shooting club.
“There are about 5,000 shooting clubs nationwide,” he said. “I was a teacher for 25 years and my biggest goal was to teach my students to think independently, become independent and think about themselves and their role in the community. This is one more thing we can add to their lives – it’s a great thing to have.”
Laura Carrasco, parent and teacher in Corvallis since 1994, voiced her concerns.
“I’m all for more clubs, we need more clubs,” she said. “I do Science Olympiad and Mountain Clubs – they offer great things to kids.”
Carrasco said her reservations about the Shooting Club come from her role as a teacher who works with marginalized students and those with disabilities.
“There are other avenues for participation in this and when this is part of the public high school it is part of the high school’s fabric,” she said.
Her worries include guns as a “mechanism for violence” and cited Columbine and other school shootings.
Carrasco noted that if this club is part of the school every student will have access.
“It is the right for every child to access it and I work with kids who might not benefit from that right,” she said. “I spend my day working with kids who have significant mental health issues. I spend a part of my year educating a student who is deemed to be unsafe and can’t be here. I’m concerned.”
Theresa Manzella, (R) District 85, said she was delighted Corvallis schools were having this conversation.
“I applaud you for it,” she said. “My father was an avid shooter and his thoughts on the best way to keep me safe was to demystify the inanimate object – to replace my natural fear of a gun with knowledge and respect. I’m thankful for that because I grew up viewing guns as tools.”
Gary Milner, sixth-grade science teacher, said the issue is polarizing to our country and community.
“I would also like the school board to think it could be polarizing to the staff and what it could do to the work environment,” he said. “I’m not anti-gun but am concerned about funding. I think there are better ways to spend money. I would like to see money spent on paraprofessionals and special education teachers to help our at-risk kids - we are understaffed.”
Several students who are active in shooting sports clubs spoke in favor of having the high school club.
Mike Warner, Corvallis graduate and Valley Veterans Service Center Director, said he started in a broken home, learned to shoot in the Boy Scouts and served in the U.S. Marine Corps for eight years.
“I got involved in as many opportunities as I could in high school so that I wouldn’t have to go home,” he said. “I see this as another opportunity for kids that need someplace to go.”
He recalls that, while in the Marine Corps, placing pencils in the ground at 100-yards and shooting the erasers off.
“The discipline that I learned from shooting sports and the Marine Corps allowed me to become the person I am today,” Warner said. “This is an education and like drivers ed and sex ed I hope you move forward in launching a club like this so that students like me could broaden their horizons.”
Doug Mason from American Legion Post 91 offered to help with the funding of the club.
“Legion is a resource, we are in full support and we will help you any way we can,” he said.
Zach Miller, parent, said he grew up hunting and he has his kids in shooting sports.
“Why would the school board supporting a shooting club?” he asked. “I think there are skills to be learned but that’s not sufficient reason. There are ample opportunities in the community.”
Jon Goodrich, parent, said he appreciated the school making a survey of the students to come up with the top five clubs they’d like to have.
“Cooking and hiking ranked number one and two and so at best shooting sports was third so I ask the board why we are considering shooting sports over the alternatives,” he said. “I enjoy hunting but I have to ask why this needs to be associated with the school. I think the risk and the liability outweigh the benefits especially there is apple opportunity in the community.”
Goodrich said the fire arms should not be viewed as a devise to teach students.
“Today we live in a gun culture,” he said. “Schools needs to be a gun-free place for students.”
School Board member Kathy Harder-Brouwer said that as a physician she sees gun deaths as a public health crisis.
“The students at Corvallis are facing more issues than what can be addressed by this club,” she said. “Our number one and two interests are hiking and home cooking. Why aren’t we looking at those for clubs?”
She said for folks who brought up sex education, “This community values sexual education being done in the home.”
“We respect parent’s rights to do that and I prefer to leave shooting sports education to the parents,” Harder-Brower said.
Tim Johnson said the idea for the club came from him and the survey represents “opportunity for engagement.”
“When you engage with students you make the learning more permanent,” he said. “This is an opportunity to connect in a deeper way with students. This is a unique offering - if we risk nothing do we learn anything? We need to have a stake in this. I think we should do this, I think we have an obligation.”
The board vote was Harder-Brouwer, Ginny Hoffman, Tonia Bloom and Becky Anderson against;
Jennifer Channer and Wilbur Nisly in favor and Dan Wolsky absent.