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Billings superintendent says the district is working to combat gang activity in schools



Billings, Montana – Erwin Garcia, the superintendent of Billings public schools, claims that gang activity exists at a few of the city’s schools and that the district is aggressively addressing the issue.

Although Garcia was unable to give a precise figure, he stated that there are issues with gang affiliation at all three of the high schools. 60 young parolees with gang affiliations are in the region, according to Billings Police Chief Rich St. John, who stated on Thursday that seven juvenile gangs are active in the city. He did not, however, say whether any of them are in the schools.

“Gang activity exists in some of our schools,” Garcia said Thursday. “In many cases, it’s kids that are trying to begin the steps that they see in the neighborhood.”

According to Garcia, the district is investigating how to increase the security of the campuses near Billings. An impartial auditing firm will start touring 37 district locations on Monday in an effort to improve security.

“We understand the reality that parents are very concerned, but in our schools, we are not going to tolerate any type of behavior or any type of passing drugs or gang activity,” Garcia said. “We need to get together and be united.”

Many parents expressed alarm about the recent gun violence targeting young people in the community, noting that it has been making its way into the school’s corridors for the previous few years.

Since last year, when she saw a student’s gun being taken away in the hallways, a parent—who wished to remain anonymous because she is a teacher in the district—said her daughter hasn’t felt comfortable at Billings Senior High.

“She still for a very long time did not feel safe, and to this day doesn’t feel 100% safe,” the parent said. “It really kind of messed with her because she felt safe at school and then at that point, it really broke the trust bond. I think she knew it was here but then to witness it firsthand was definitely a wake-up call.”

Parent Jessica Gordon of Billings Heights stated that issues are also present in that community. One of the Medicine Crow Middle School students had threatened her kid the previous year.

“Another child came up to my child before school started and told my son that he was coming over tonight to shoot up our house,” Gordon said. “I am just literally in shock at some of the things that these kids are saying and doing and just taking it to the next level.”

During Thursday’s news conference, Billings Police Chief Rich St. John mentioned that he remembered one or two firearms that were removed from a student at Billings West High a few weeks ago. Garcia stated that he is not aware of any guns that have been confiscated in Billings schools during his three months on the job.

Garcia stated that he thinks the issue can be resolved with more security and awareness.

“This is a difficult time for the community,” Garcia said. “Now more than ever, we need to be connected because we don’t want to have more innocent adults or innocent children dying in our community.”

Parents worry that unless immediate adjustments are made, the issue will simply worsen.

“The majority of all those kids, are sitting next to your kid in class and walking the halls and it’s like, what’s going to trigger them next?” the anonymous parent said. “I don’t think it’s a matter of if, I think it’s a matter of when. I just hope my students are out of SD2 by then.”

“It is heartbreaking to hear about all this stuff,” Gordon said. “Every day you hear about another shooting. Something needs to change.”


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