District con­sid­ers arm­ing its teach­ers

The Denver Post - - DENVER & THE WEST - By Deb­bie Kel­ley

On Wed­nes­day, the fourth an­niver­sary of the shoot­ing that killed 20 chil­dren and six em­ploy­ees at Sandy Hook Ele­men­tary School in New­town, Conn., Hanover School District 28’s board will de­cide whether to arm teach­ers and other staff mem­bers at school.

Con­cerns about mass shootings are only part of what’s fu­el­ing the pro­posal to al­low em­ploy­ees to carry con­cealed hand­guns.

“It’s more what’s com­ing into the neigh­bor­hoods,” board mem­ber Michael Law­son said at the Novem­ber board meet­ing.

Specif­i­cally, the mar­i­juana grows.

Large cul­ti­va­tion op­er­a­tors have set up shop within a few miles of schools on the ru­ral east­ern plains of El Paso County, he said.

“There are three (grows) within 2 miles of the school,” Law­son said Mon­day.

“The Cuban and Colom­bian car­tels are buy­ing up to grow mar­i­juana in Colorado. We need to look at the safety of the schools and the kids.”

District 28, which has about 270 stu­dents, has never had an at­tack from an in­truder, said Su­per­in­ten­dent Grant Sch­midt. The district does have a school re­source of­fi­cer, who is an El Paso County sher­iff ’s deputy, on staff.

But it can take emer­gency ve­hi­cles and law en­force­ment some 30 min­utes or more to reach the ju­nior-se­nior high school, Sch­midt said. That’s the ma­jor rea­son for the pro­posed res­o­lu­tion, he said, adding that since it’s such a con­tro­ver­sial topic, he’s not tak­ing sides.

“I fig­ure it’s best de­ter­mined by the lo­cal board, so I’m tak­ing a neu­tral po­si­tion and will fol­low their lead,” he said.

Law­son, a Na­tional Ri­fle As­so­ci­a­tion firearms in­struc­tor and vol­un­teer fire­fighter, brought up the idea at the June board meet­ing. Mem­bers have been dis­cussing the is­sue since then and are sched­uled to vote Wed­nes­day night.

“I don’t care if any of the staff ever pick up a gun,” Law­son said. “The fact that you have a ‘No guns’ sign at your front door is an in­vi­ta­tion. If this res­o­lu­tion passes, we can put up a sign, ‘Some staff at this school may be armed.’ To me, that’s a de­ter­rent.”

Colorado law does not al­low car­ry­ing con­cealed firearms on pub­lic ele­men­tary and sec­ondary school prop­erty, un­less the per­son is a se­cu­rity guard for the school.

The res­o­lu­tion District 28’s five-mem­ber board of ed­u­ca­tion will con­sider would al­low “one or more em­ploy­ees of the district to be des­ig­nated as se­cu­rity guards and au­tho­rized to carry firearms on school prop­erty.”

Should the res­o­lu­tion pass with a ma­jor­ity vote, in­ter­ested teach­ers and other staff mem­bers would need to pos­sess or ob­tain a con­cealed-hand­gun per­mit, be ap­proved by the board for se­cu­rity guard sta­tus and take post-cer­ti­fi­ca­tion train­ing that in­cludes in­struc­tion on shoot­ing a firearm.

Em­ploy­ees would not be iden­ti­fied as car­ry­ing a con­cealed weapon and would have to un­dergo an an­nual up­dat­ing of their cre­den­tials. The res­o­lu­tion would take ef­fect im­me­di­ately.

“This is a good place to learn and grow up,” said Law­son, whose chil­dren grad­u­ated from the district. “Do­ing this would de­ter most crim­i­nals. You’re not go­ing to get all of them, but if we can turn around most of them, it’s a vic­tory.”

Board Pres­i­dent Mark McPher­son said he won’t sup­port the res­o­lu­tion, no mat­ter what. He doesn’t think it’s nec­es­sary.

“We haven’t seen the need, and I think arm­ing in­di­vid­u­als who are not trained to op­er­ate with weapons on a daily ba­sis puts every­body in the build­ing at risk,” he said. “As a re­tired Army of­fi­cer, I would never arm our em­ploy­ees.”

In­stead, McPher­son fa­vors hir­ing an­other school re­source of­fi­cer.

That would cost up to $55,000 a year, ac­cord­ing to Sch­midt, an ex­pense some board mem­bers said the district would be pressed to find in its bud­get.

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