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Taylorsville • Emotions at Westbrook Elementary ran the gamut Friday after a teacher's concealed handgun accidentally discharged, shattering a toilet and injuring her leg.
Students first expressed concern, then reflection and, finally, a little humor the day after 6th-grade teacher Michelle Ferguson-Montgomery's 9 mm Glock went off in a faculty bathroom.
"I'm just glad no one was seriously hurt," said John Ebner, whose son is in fourth grade at Westbrook. "Personally, I'm not a gun person, but I'm not really against them. In this day and age we live in, I don't know if it is such a bad thing that some teachers are carrying weapons."
In a letter posted on the school website, Principal Karen Chatterton acknowledged parents' worries and urged them to talk to their state representatives.
"Please be assured that our district and school policy is as restrictive as possible as far as state law will permit, to ensure student and staff safety to the highest degree possible," Chatterton wrote.
Granite School District policy requires concealed weapon holders to have their guns on their person and "in their control" at all times.
Ebner talked about the accident with his son after school Thursday. He was glad his son's first concern was for the teacher, but was surprised with the student's other thoughts.
"I didn't know he liked the idea of teachers with guns," Ebner said. "He was glad she carries a gun in case some crazy comes into the school.
"I thought he would be upset and that it might scare him," the father said. "But with all the news coverage and the Internet, they know everything and are exposed to all the stories about school shootings."
Sixth-grader Derek Atkinson is in Ferguson-Montgomery's class and said he knew she carried a gun because he saw it on her hip when she bent over in the classroom. The teacher's nickname is "Iron Woman."
Students learned about the incident, which happened before school started, after an extra-long morning recess while teachers were told how to share the news with their pupils, Atkinson said. The sixth-grader took the accident in stride.
"Meh," he said, shrugging his shoulders after a scheduled short day at school Friday. "It isn't really a scary thing to think the teacher has a gun because if there was a hard lockdown, she would have the gun to protect us."
Stacey Atkinson said her son was mostly focused on what was destroyed during the incident.
"He really laughed that the toilet exploded," she said.
Ferguson-Montgomery's concealed handgun went off in a faculty restroom at 8:45 a.m. Thursday. Granite School District spokesperson Ben Horsley said the teacher was hit by fragments from the toilet and possibly the bullet in her lower left calf. Ferguson-Montgomery, a 14-year veteran of the school, was taken to Intermountain Medical Center for treatment and released.
Atkinson said he wasn't sure if his teacher's nickname was related to her packing a gun, or just because she is a tough person who is rumored to have walked out on her own after the incident.
Classes proceeded normally and crisis counselors were provided for students, parents and teachers. A handful of parents pulled their children out of school, Horsley said.
He said the district has heard from people on both sides of the gun debate.
"We have had some nasty and unkind emails," Horsley said. "We try to respond to as many as possible. A number of people are very angry on one side of this issue allowing teachers to bring weapons on campus. We have referred them to the governing body that allows that to occur. For a lot of people, this is a political issue. The district does not have that privilege; we have to adhere to the law."
Joanna Espinosa was picking up a child, not her own, from Westbrook Elementary and said she was "shocked" to hear about the shooting.
"If he was my child, I wouldn't want him to be in this school," she said. "I didn't even know teachers could have a gun. Wow. I'm sure parents are very upset and will be asking more about teachers."
Another mother who asked not to be identified was upset about the incident and said she hoped the teacher would not return.
But John Lambert, whose daughter is a Westbrook kindergartner, said his worries about the shooting were quelled because the accident did not happen in a classroom and no one other than the teacher was hurt.
"I guess I don't mind if [teachers] have them, but they should be secured in the holster with the safety on," he said. "It is kind of nice they are there in case something bad happens, but maybe they could be a little more cautious."
In a school blog posted late Thursday, Chatterton said "the main concern was the well-being of our students or staff who may feel anxiety over this incident."
The principal told parents there is little the school can do to limit concealed weapon carriers' access to the school or inform parents of which teachers have gun permits. State law protects the identity of concealed weapon permit holders.
"Some of you have already expressed concern with allowing your student on campus where a weapon may be present due to the fact that we are unaware of who may or may not have a concealed weapon permit," the principal wrote. "This is an issue and concern that should be addressed with your state legislators."
She then provided email addresses for Taylorsville Republican Sen. Wayne Harper and Rep. Jim Dunnigan.