In Loco Parentis

There’s a small disclaimer at the bottom of my blog.  I’m willing to bet you’ve never seen it.    It says that the opinions in this blog are my own and don’t represent SCSD #1.  I write my blog using a service not affiliated with our district and I’m writing this post on my own time.  I point this out today because some of the comments in this post are non-secular.  If you have concerns regarding that, please stop reading now.

Two days ago, another horrific school shooting took place in Connecticut.  I won’t give the perpetrator the attention he must have wanted by expanding on specific details, but at this point, we all know the vast majority of the victims were elementary school children.  And while some of the intent of this post is to inform our parents of the safety and security measures that are in place at SCSD #1, I wouldn’t be much of a father or an educator if I didn’t ask each and every one of you to pray that the healing spirit of God rest and abide with each one of those grieving families and bring them comfort.

In the near future, and as a result of this incident, there will be another renewed discussion of school safety.  I say renewed because the difficult truth is that our collective memory can be rather short when it comes to these types of things.  Less than a year ago, I wrote a post for this blog addressing the concerns of some folks in our community about new door hardware at the auditorium entrance that required visitors to be buzzed in.

The truth however, is that nothing needs to be renewed about our commitment to student safety and security at SCSD #1, and I want our parents to know that.  As I outlined in a press release from the district, over the past two years we have added additional external safety measures and surveillance equipment.  We have opened our facilities and buses to the Sheriff’s office for training.  We have added a school resource officer and completely revised our crisis management plan and our emergency response manuals to match the incident command system used by first responders.  And most importantly, we continue to schedule and conduct training drills with the Sheriff’s office to address the threat of an active shooter.

There is another truth, sadly, that we must also acknowledge.  Schools by their very nature are designed to be open, inviting places.   As much as we work to ensure the safety of our students, the primary function of a school building isn’t security.  I don’t know where the appropriate balance lies between security measures and the educational environment, but it’s a discussion that we as a nation and a local community will continue.

At the end of the day however, it is our commitment to people who will have the greatest impact on preventing and mitigating violence of this nature.  Bars on windows and locked doors are merely deterrents and mitigation factors.  Valuable certainly, and potentially life saving, but I don’t think that’s where our primary focus should be.  The perpetrator in Connecticut shot through glass windows to open locked doors.   The lives that were saved at Sandy Hook Elementary School were saved by the actions of people, not by static security measures.

Whether anyone wants to really talk about it or not, the basis for our security standards is contained in the Latin phrase, in loco parentis.  It means “in place of the parent”.   It’s a legal term that gives schools the power to act in the best interest of the student.   This is most often used in an educational sense.  But as the heroic teachers and administrators at Sandy Hook Elementary School demonstrated, it’s come to mean so much more.  It means treating your students the way we would our own children, even if that requires making the ultimate sacrificing to protect them.

I can tell you from experience there isn’t lot of discussion about this aspect of being a teacher in the teacher preparation courses in college.  And we don’t have a standard interview question that asks, “Would you take a bullet for your students?”  But as we have recently learned, even the youngest and perhaps meekest of our profession, have done so without hesitation.  If you haven’t recently said thank you to a teacher or principal for what they do, or what we all know they would be willing to do, I encourage to you do so.

But even beyond the commitment that teachers and administrators make to in loco parentisI think it’s even more important that we ALL make this same commitment to one another.   Experts will tell you that those who carry out events like school shootings plan the event for months, and somewhere the clock is ticking on the next event.  For just a moment, let’s collectively take the time to think like a parent for everyone we know.   Who could use a kind word, an email, or a phone call?  Who do we know that’s lonely or isolated?  Let’s take a minute in Pinedale, to check in with our neighbors and the person you see every day, but never seem to find the time to stop and talk with.  Let’s care enough about people we’ve never met, in an effort to truly care for our children.  And let’s do our part locally to ensure that absolutely no one feels like their options in life have been reduced to the point of shooting innocent children and caring educators.

About Jay Harnack

Superintendent of Sublette County School District #1
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7 Responses to In Loco Parentis

  1. Kris Ewert says:

    Hello Jay, I respect you and the wonderful balance you have developed between professionalism and the humane heart of a man who really cares. We’ve moved from your community but the effects of your tireless efforts to make SCSD#1 such a fine place for teachers and students has touched us and influenced for good our regard for the fine institution of education. Sadly, in this instance, school security truly becomes the stage upon which specific decisions need to be made. I’ve wondered if that amazing principal who charged after the insane gunman would have had something besides her bare hands to stop him, things may have been different. You will know the solution when you see it. In the mean time, Pete and I join our prayers with you and Sam and the rest of this nation for peace to eventually rest in the hearts of those who have lost so much.

  2. Rollie Myers says:

    My heart is heavy and sad, but you wrote a truly admirable blog.
    Thank you.

  3. Heidi Gay says:

    Right on point and well said. Thank you.

  4. Barbara Wise says:

    Jay, I applaude your well-cast thoughts on the safety and protection of our school children. As a former faculty member at PHS and as a grandmother, I wholeheartedly support whatever you and
    you staff can do to keep children safe. I did wonder what systems you have in place. This is such
    a sad time, but you are correct–the clock is ticking…Continue your leadership with Board and Staff
    so that our school system remains one of the very best. Barbara Wise

  5. Sharron and Alan Ziegler says:

    Thank you, Jay, for speaking from your heart and your experience at a difficult time. Alan and I are deeply saddened by this horrific crime. We feel the extraordinary responsibility that you and your staff have to strike a balance between a school that is friendly, open, and a positive learning environment for students and a prison-like fort to protect them from this crazy unpredictable world. We have full confidence in you and your administration to do what is best for this community and our children. You are exactly right that we need to be more diligent in our kindness and caring one with another. Again, thank you.

  6. Tom Peters says:

    You have my support. Thank you for writing words we needed to read.

  7. MJ Kleven says:


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