Parents, community members seek school security solutions

Board of education meeting draws public comment on a variety of options

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David Ray, president of the Douglas County Board of Education, opened a May 14 school board meeting with a moment of silence for Kendrick Castillo, who was killed in the May 7 school shooting at STEM School Highlands Ranch. Eight other students were injured in the attack.

“As a board of directors, I want you to know that we are parents and grandparents, and we want nothing more than our students to feel safe and be safe at school,” Ray said to a crowded boardroom of parents, teachers, Douglas County citizens and a handful of camera crews from area media.

That evening the school board cleared most of the items on the agenda to make time for public comment on security at Douglas County schools. Three common themes were metal detectors, armed staff and more mental health resources. District staff recorded notes and questions.

Last year’s election gave the district a funding boost for school security, and more money may be on the way.

About $15 million of a $250 million bond approved by voters in November is going toward physical security measures, such as door locks and cameras. Of a $40 million mill levy override, $6 million is helping fund 85 additional counselors in elementary, middle and high schools.

In addition, Douglas County commissioners held a special work session May 13 to discuss allocating $10 million to improve school safety throughout the district following the shooting.

While most speakers at the May 14 meeting agreed that mental health must be a priority, suggestions on physical security measures varied.

Marni McMillan, a Parker parent, wants the district to act immediately by installing metal detectors at all middle and high schools, with one way in and out, she said. Down the road, she would like to see money go toward hiring more counselors and training armed personnel.

“We need action now and a solution now,” McMillan said to the school board. “One that allows us to drop off our kids this fall and not have a sick feeling in the pit of our stomach.”

Jen Shocker, who has an 8-year-old son in the district, said she opposes metal detectors, citing studies that deem the measure ineffective in certain settings. Shocker, whose professional background includes implementing security solutions for military and defense clients in Washington, D.C., wants to see evidence-based solutions, she said.

“The reason people think of (metal detectors) is because studies have shown that metal detectors reduced the number of firearms in urban school environments that had high levels of gang violence,” Shocker, of Highlands Ranch, said. “So, the effectiveness of metal detectors for preventing gang violence shouldn’t be applied to our suburban schools.”

Metal detectors would only increase anxiety, she said. “We need to protect mental health now more than ever.”

Parker resident Joy Overbeck encouraged the board to host a town hall and invite Laura Carno from FASTER Colorado, a conceal-carry program that provides gun training to teachers and administrators. She said she supports arming teachers because in the event of a school shooting, “proximity is critical.”

“Staff would be the first responders,” Overbeck said. “I challenge the board to overcome hatred and distrust of firearms.”

Superintendent Thomas Tucker thanked community members for expressing concerns and sharing suggestions. Neither he nor school board members offered specifics on school security moving forward.

“Tonight has been a good night for us in which we haven’t engaged in fingerpointing,” Tucker said. “We need to fix and improve security at every last one of our schools.”

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