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Charles City not likely to offer gun-safety course as part of curriculum

By James Grob and Bethany Carson
Charles City Press and Butler County Tribune-Journal

Citing the district’s history of cooperation with local outdoors groups, as well as the school’s trap shooting team, the Charles City School District stated on Wednesday that it would not be likely to offer a gun-safety class through the district any time soon, although the district did not completely reject the idea.

In a statement, the Charles City School District said the district offers high school students the opportunity to learn and compete with the Charles City/Nashua Trap Shooting team.

“In addition, our schools have historically supported Pheasants Forever and the Isaak Walton League in sharing information with our students on their hunter safety program,” the statement said. “We look forward to continuing our district support for these organizations who offer hunter safety programs to the students who choose to participate in these educational programs.”

Last month, it was reported that middle school students in two area school districts will be learning how to handle firearms as part of a mandatory hunter safety course being introduced in the next school year.

Students in both the seventh and eighth grades in the North Butler and Clarksville school districts will take part in the classes starting in 2019. High school students will also be able to take part in a voluntary class teaching how to properly use firearms.

The Charles City School District did not completely close the door to the idea.

“If a community group with the experience and the necessary qualifications would like to offer hunter safety courses in our schools, we would be willing to start a conversation with them,” the statement said.

The students in North Butler and Clarksville will use inoperable guns with replica ammunition to learn how to load and unload bullets and hold and care for firearms. They’ll also learn how to safely carry guns and how to recognize when firearms are loaded.

The hunter safety courses are expected to last about a week as part of the physical education curriculums and will be taught by a naturalist from the Butler County Conservation Board. Parents can opt to have their children not take the courses.

Seventh- and eighth-graders will be taught the course at North Butler; only eighth-graders will be taught at Clarksville. For students interested in other grades, there will an optional evening course available. Students will receive a certificate upon completing the course.

According to a recent article in the Butler County Tribune Journal, although the decision has triggered debate nationwide, in Clarksville and North Butler the announcement has not garnered much controversy, and the gun-safety classes are more related to a recent tragedy than they are to any political agenda.

The Tribune Journal reported that last spring, local teenager Kain Schild died in an accidental shooting in rural Clarksville. Schild loved the outdoors, and he loved to hunt, fish and trap, the story said. His family encouraged those interested in weaponry to take gun safety courses. Some businesses and organizations offered programs in Schild’s memory.

“Ginger and I lost our son to a shooting accident on May 10,” Scott Schild said following a program. “I think all children and adults should learn about firearm safety whether they have a gun in the house or not. It doesn’t matter whether they’re hunters or not, everybody should learn firearm safety.”

The school districts took Scott Schild up on the idea.

“Whether it be for hunting purposes, or possibly for a young person to need to know how to handle them because a little one they may be babysitting finds a weapon and brings it to them, everyone may need to know how to responsibly handle a firearm at some point in their life,” said Superintendent Joel Foster.

“We would prefer that they learn it the proper way, and learn to respect firearms and their capabilities though proper training by qualified and well-trained individuals who educate others for a living.”

School board members agreed.

“I believe that teaching hunter education in our school is a valuable way to promote ethics and safety,” said Clarksville Board of Education President Justin Clark. “Hunters education is meant to keep hunting a safe activity, and also to prepare students with responsible actions for any situation that they may encounter throughout life.”

The hunters’ safety course will be taught by Steve Martin of Butler County Conservation.

 “The Iowa Hunter Education Program has always been about teaching safe firearms handling practices by those engaged in hunting, but completing the course will have benefits for non-hunters as well,” Martin said.

“The hunter education curriculum accomplishes the goal of teaching safe firearms handling practices by including chapters on how firearms work, basic shooting and hunting skills, and how to safely handle firearms,” he said. “The course goes beyond teaching only safe firearms handling skills and covers topics such as ethics and personal responsibility, proper preparation, basic first aid and good decision-making skills as well.

“Each of these things is something that every student, whether they hunt or not, can take away from the class and apply to other parts of their lives,” Martin said.

“It is our belief that if each student understands the importance of firearm safety and makes it a habit to apply each of the principles that they will be taught, future accidents involving firearms whether in the home, while target shooting, or while hunting can be avoided.”

Clarksville school board member Tim Backer said, “I think (it’s) very important for all kids, if you plan on using a gun or not. All kids should have a basic knowledge of gun control and safety. Just being around guns and not shooting them, you should understand the basics of gun safety and what could happen.”

North Butler school board member Bobbi Spainhower said, “I am excited that North Butler is adding hunter safety as part of the PE curriculum. This is a great opportunity to educate our students on the responsibilities of owning a firearm. The hunter safety program provides our students with basic outdoor skills, (and) teaches safe handling and … respect for firearms.”

North Butler school board member Eric Bixby said, “This is an excellent opportunity to make sure our kids are being taught the proper way to handle and use firearms. They may never go hunting, but may be exposed to them in places they do not expect, so hopefully they should have the knowledge to avoid any tragedy.”