Firearms safety course angers mother Class has been taught in other county schools for about 20 years By ANITA MUNSON Tribune Staff Writer PLYMOUTH -- A firearms safety class taught at Lincoln Junior High School for the first time this year has one local mother up in arms. Aimee Falls thinks the class has no place in a public school curriculum, and she's angry that, as a parent, she was not given the opportunity to keep her daughter, Sasha Jarvis, 13, from attending it. "This type of class should not have been forced upon all of the students," Falls said Jan. 29. "I talked to the principal and said, 'Maybe you should have notified the parents.' " Falls said a relative was murdered at gunpoint, adding, "We are anti-guns. ... Guns are made to kill, nothing more. "I was offended. ... I would have chosen for her (daughter Sasha) not to have had the class." The class is not taught with actual firearms. Falls said she has contacted local school officials, the Indiana Department of Education, the Department of Natural Resources and several area media outlets about her concerns. Lincoln Principal John McNeil said Falls' request for parental notification is reasonable, but he defended the program's merits. "I wish now that we'd done that," McNeil said Tuesday of getting parental permission for student participation. "Times are different today. ... It's a good suggestion ... a reasonable thing to do." Program new to Plymouth McNeil said the class, which is coordinated and taught by Indiana conservation officers from the Department of Natural Resources, was added this year to the physical education program after the conservation officers brought it up with Brody Shively, a physical education teacher, and Steve Miller, who teaches industrial technology. The class was available last year, during the homeroom period, the principal explained, saying that about 50 students enrolled, after officials thought 30 might be the largest number showing interest. "It was quite popular," McNeil said, "and there was so much interest in it." Indiana conservation officer Ken Dowdle, who coordinated the Lincoln program, said it is being taught in the county's other schools, including Argos and Culver. "It's taught in all 50 states," said Dowdle, who has taught the firearms safety class each of his 11 years as a conservation officer. "It's firearms safety in general," Dowdle explained. He said students are taught familiarization and safety, safe storage of firearms and ammunition, and how to properly use gun locks. "We do not bring firearms into the classroom," Dowdle said. Guns can be found anywhere Dowdle said that at the beginning of the class, students are asked if they baby-sit. "Most do," Dowdle said, saying instructors explain that the course will help students who may encounter firearms in the home of a child for whom they baby-sit. Dowdle said a hunting manual, containing photographs of firearms, is used in the class, and that material within the manual does include information on conservation and preservation, as well as habitats and animal populations. Falls objects to the manual, saying it is aimed at adults and shows "pictures of guns, bullets, and how to load them." "But the school's primary focus was firearms safety," Dowdle said of the emphasis of the program taught throughout Marshall County to students in the 13- to 14-year-old range. "The bottom line is that we really hit hard on the seriousness of your actions (with firearms)," Dowdle said in a phone interview from his home Tuesday. He said officers speak about the consequences of shootings and that prosecution does follow for the person doing the shooting. "We don't teach a kid how to fire a gun. ... They don't even handle them," Dowdle said. "Even a 2-year-old knows how to shoot a gun. ... That's why there are accidents. ... We don't need to teach them that." Dowdle said students are taught how to safely unload firearms and how the firearms should be kept locked, separate from any ammunition, which also should be in a locked container. "Should they ever be around firearms -- and most of them are, you'd be surprised the number of kids who raised their hands to indicate there were guns in their homes -- they need to be knowledgeable about safety," Dowdle said. Dowdle said the class takes away some of the mystery and/or glamour of firearms, reducing or sometimes eliminating a natural curiosity about firearms. Class taught throughout Marshall County Dowdle said the same class is being taught at Culver Community Middle School, Triton High School in Bourbon and within the John Glenn school system. It's taught every other year at the Argos schools, he said. "It's the same material that's taught, but it's fit into different curriculums," Dowdle said. For example, within the Bremen Community Schools system, the hunter's safety course has been offered in a natural resources class, school officials said Wednesday. The natural resources class, when taught, is part of an agriculture program. Brad Schuldt, superintendent at Culver Community Schools, said the firearms safety class is part of a two-week unit that also includes boating and water safety every year. Taught at the middle school in Culver, the course is "not just hunter safety," Schuldt said. Students can, however, receive state certification upon successful completion of the class, Dowdle said. The certification allows them to purchase a hunting license. Schuldt said the program has been offered at the Culver schools for the past 20 years, with last year being the only year it wasn't presented. "Kids should be able to opt out. It's what we do with anything like this," Schuldt said, adding he didn't know why the class wasn't provided last year. No student has ever opted out of the class, he said. McNeil said he'd received about 20 e-mails by last Tuesday supporting the school's firearms safety program. But he knows that it's a sensitive program. "The rub with some parents, given the topic is guns, and the concern we have for firearms, is that we should have parents' permission," McNeil said. "Given the sensitivity that some people have ... in the future we'll have a permission slip, and we'll come up with alternative programs for them. "At least this is an opportunity to let people know that folks who are very well qualified out there are willing to come in and share their knowledge for the benefit of our children's safety," McNeil added. "So, if (students) come into a situation where there is a gun, they can handle it properly so nobody gets hurt. "I think (Falls) felt we were encouraging the kids to use guns," McNeil said. He explained that despite Falls' complaint that students are learning too much about firearms, the schools' DARE program (which educates students against the use of drugs) includes showing what drugs look like, and that program has not been accused of promoting drug usage. "This is not just to make me happy," Falls said of her quest to remove the class from the curriculum. "It still doesn't clear up the issue. ... When you teach gun safety, a lot of responsibility goes with that. "Instead of making (the course) available in public school, they can contact the DNR to join a class," Falls said. "I don't see the necessity of it."