Exploring Colo. School Districts’ Decision to Arm Staff Members
The decision to bring guns into schools has been a tough one for many rural school districts.
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At least a dozen school districts in Colorado have adopted policies allowing staff members to carry concealed weapons in hopes of improving emergency preparedness.
Many of the district officials say the policies are necessary given the long response times of local sheriff’s offices and small budgets that don’t allow for the hiring of professional security officers.
There are likely more than a dozen districts adopting such policies, many of them in rural areas, although the Colorado Department of Education doesn’t keep track of school security policies.
“There is a great deal of interest around the state among school districts interested in protecting their kids this way,” Michelle Murphy, executive director of the Colorado Rural Schools Alliance, told The Denver Post.
The Fleming School District in Logan County began allowing employees to act as security officers and carry guns on school property last year.
The district trains employees with a three-person committee headed by sheriff’s personnel. The process to carry weapons on district grounds also includes passing a psychological evaluation, a voice-stress analysis and completing a week of active shooter training.
Fleming has no local police department and is about 20 minutes from the local sheriff.
The Briggsdale School District, which has an enrollment of 180 students, requires staff members who want to act as security officers to have a concealed carry permit, take training courses twice a year, provide proof that they shoot at least 100 rounds at a gun range every month and complete tactical medical training.
Additionally, the Hanover School District, which has a total enrollment of 270 students, is still developing its policy to arm staff members, but will require them to have a concealed carry permit and undergo annual training that meets school insurability standards.
Many school district officials in the state say armed staff members undergo similar training to deputies and police officers, and some current legislative efforts in the state seek to standardize and improve that training.
Senate Bill 5 would mandate that school boards work with county sheriffs to create a curriculum for gun safety courses that staff members would have to complete to carry weapons on school grounds.
The bill passed a party-line vote 3-2 in its first hearing Jan. 24 and is on the Senate floor for consideration.
That bill has been criticized by some community members because it would circumvent current state law prohibiting firearms in classrooms. That law does allow security personnel to be armed, but Senate Bill 5 would broaden the criteria so that any district employee with a concealed carry permit can carry guns in schools if they receive permission from the school board.
“I don’t think you can ask a teacher, no matter their training, to react to a situation where they have to decide whether to draw a weapon and kill someone,” Hanover School District board President Mark McPherson says. “There is no way I could support something like [Senate Bill 5].”
The bill’s sponsor, Senate Majority Leader Chris Holbert, argues that it is necessary because some district training is inadequate and that passing it would discourage attackers from targeting schools.
“This is not a gun bill, but a training bill,” Holbert says.
Other Hanover board members agree with Holbert’s reasoning.
“I think posting a sign saying ‘This is a Gun Free Zone’ has been a disservice and puts people in danger,” Hanover School District board member Randy Underwood says. “It just makes schools a soft target.”
A 2014 Campus Safety survey of 627 K-12 and college campus security professionals showed that 49 percent of K-12 respondents were opposed to school personnel carrying concealed weapons on campus regardless of the training they received. More results of that survey are included in the slideshow.
Fleming Superintendent Steve McCraken says it was a difficult decision, but in the end they decided the best course of action was to train staff members far more extensively than what is currently required by the Colorado School District’s Self Insurance Pool.
“This is something the district and the community have talked about for quite a while,” McCraken says. “And we think this is the best solution we came up with.”
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