District 51 group not recommending armed school guards

The District 51 School Security and Safety Work Group will make a long list of recommendations to the district’s school board tonight.

Arming volunteers or teachers will not be on the list.

The idea of arming personnel has been discussed throughout a series of seven meetings the group has had since forming last month. The group has never been able to get a majority of members to back the idea.

A draft of tonight’s presentation to the board shown to the group at their final meeting Monday included a slide that explains the group did not reach a consensus on the idea of armed personnel. Another slide includes a roster of training and evaluation standards approved by local law enforcement that the group agreed school board members could consult if they ever decided to pursue the idea of arming personnel in the future.

The slide was at the end of the presentation but group member Mike Lowenstein suggested moving the slide further up in the presentation. That way, he said, the group could get the idea out of the way first so the meeting could focus on proposals that most group members endorse.

“Possibly someone can keep studying this but there’s not going to be a consensus” in the group, Lowenstein said. “We would do ourselves and the school district a great favor by taking this off the table.”

Fellow group member David Cox voiced the only opposition in the meeting to abandoning the idea of armed district employees at this time. Cox suggested the school board may consider asking voters in a referred measure if they want to give principals the option to have armed personnel in certain schools.

Cox has been a proponent of armed people in schools throughout group meetings, along with fellow group member Rich Bacher. Bacher did not attend Monday’s meeting.

Cox said he felt the odds were stacked against the idea of armed personnel when supporters of the idea were placed in separate groups during small group discussion in the last two meetings.

He added the 25-member group of law enforcement, mental health, district personnel and citizen members may not reflect the attitude of voters.

Grand Junction High School Principal Jon Bilbo, also a member of the group, said he is uncomfortable with the idea of allowing voters to override the opinions of district staff on the issue.

A survey of teachers by the Mesa Valley Education Association and district-conducted surveys of support staff and administrators found none of the three personnel groups had a majority willing to bring armed employees or volunteers into schools.

“If the majority of our support personnel, teaching personnel, and administrative personnel don’t want to do it, why would we turn around and say, ‘Community, do you want armed guards and armed people on campus?’ ” Bilbo said. “If the community can override the people in the trenches, I’ve got a problem.”

As of Friday, the school district had received 108 comments through its website or via email regarding safety issues. Seventy-six of those comments came from people who oppose the idea of armed personnel and 32 comments came from people who support it.

Proposals that did make the cut for tonight’s presentation include the installation of panic buttons, special locks, electronic sign in/sign out systems, scanners, more cameras, bullet-proof doors and windows, electronic door locks, clearer signs on doors and buildings, and buying more two-way radios.

Other suggestions include creating a way for schools to identify students who may be a danger to themselves or others; creating programs that focus on healing students as a whole person; creating better relationships between students and counselors, school resource officers and other adults at school; and increasing training in bullying and suicide prevention, student reporting to Crime Stoppers, gun safety training for students if they find a gun, alternative conflict resolution, assessing threats, preparing for a school shooting, and lockdowns and other drills.

The school board may use suggestions from the group to adopt future safety practices. Tonight’s school board meeting begins at 6 p.m. at the Basil T. Knight Center.



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