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Public engagement – Candidates chime in on guns, school safety

By James Day

The eight candidates for positions on the Silver Falls School District Board participated in a lively and informative two-hour forum April 23 at the Silverton Grange Hall.

On hand were Zone 7 incumbent Tom Buchholz and his opponent, Jesse Smith as well as Zone 1 candidates Phil Wiesner and Jo Tucker, Zone 3 candidates Derrick Foxworth and Dixon Bledsoe and Zone 6 candidates Eliza Torlyn and Joshua Ort.

Janet Allanach (Zone 1), Lori McLoughlin (Zone 3) and Jonathan Edmonds (Zone 6) chose not to seek re-election. Board chair Jennifer Traeger (Zone 4) and Owen Von Flue (Zone 2) and Aaron Koch (Zone 5) do not face the voters again until 2025.

 

Silverton Grange hosted a School District candidates forum on April 23. James Day
Silverton Grange hosted a School District candidates forum on April 23. James Day

 

Grange questioners Cayla Catino and Elyce Brown posed a wide range of questions for the candidates, including budgets, state funding, communications, trust and the culture of the board and the district. But the issue that seemed to resonate the most was a discussion of guns and school safety.

Emblematic of the challenge of the issue, in which school shootings continue to plague U.S. schools on a national basis, is that many of the candidates seemed unsure of what the district policy was.

Incumbent Buchholz provided the answer, noting that a 4-3 board vote that he supported prohibits students and teachers from carrying weapons but others with concealed carry permits are allowed to carry weapons on district property.

Buchholz said he thought long and hard about his vote, with the key to his backing of the policy being research that showed that there is a minuscule crime rate among individuals with concealed weapon permits.

Foxworth, a Portland Police Bureau lieutenant, who has job-related experience with active shooter training, said “my advice for our community members is to follow the weapons policy. With that said any gun seen on campus is likely to cause alarm and invoke a law enforcement response even if carried in a lawful manner.”

Foxworth also said “creating a robust school safety plan must go beyond the polarizing issue of guns alone.”

Bledsoe, who praised opponent Foxworth’s expertise on the issue, described himself as a long-time Second Amendment backer and hunter who still owns guns. But he added that the Secondnd Amendment “needs some bumper guards and I’m really torn on this.”

Tucker, who admitted that she did not know that the concealed carry policy was in place, noted that if you have guns in the schools “it’s better if those individuals are well-trained.” She also said that it is a better scenario for a teacher to have a gun in the classroom than for an 18-year-old to have one.

Wisener was blunt, saying “I can’t see a good reason to have a gun on campus.”

Smith added the context of the 1993 Brady Bill, which Congress passed as a result of the 1981 assassination attempt on President Ronald Reagan that seriously injured his press secretary, James Brady. Smith said that the expiration of some pieces of the legislation have led to more shootings.

Ort noted the challenge of having just one school resource officer, an issue Tucker raised as well.

“And what if that SRO is sick?” Ort asked.

Ort also noted that there is nothing that would prevent a student carrying a gun from walking onto a campus and into a school building.

“This is a tough one,” he said, shaking his head. “God forbid that it should ever happen here.”

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