School safety and guns: District 51 community panel begins work
No idea is dismissed at District 51 School Security and Safety Work Group meetings. At least not yet.
The 25-person committee formed earlier this month meets weekly to hear presentations, present data to each other, and discuss the merits or faults they see in various school safety proposals. The group of parents, law enforcement officers, attorneys, district employees, mental health experts and community members will meet from 3:30 to 5:30 p.m. each Monday through March 18 in the modular behind the Emerson Building. They’ll weigh various suggestions for changes in school safety protocol and present their findings to District 51 School Board members on March 19.
So far, the group has heard proposals and presentations about the possibility of allowing teachers to carry concealed guns in school, revising mental health services to better detect and help students at risk of committing a school shooting, and having armed volunteers patrol schools. District 51 Executive Director of Academic Achievement Mary Jones, who co-chairs the group with Colorado Mesa University Vice President for Student Services John Marshall, said these proposals and others will be debated throughout the next few weeks.
“We don’t feel like we’re suffocating any ideas,” Jones said.
The ideas for armed teachers and volunteers have been presented by committee members Rich Bacher and David Cox, both members of the Pro-Second Amendment Committee. Bacher is a former Delta police chief who accidentally shot a fellow employee at Jerry’s Outdoor Sports five years ago this month. He had been working on a rifle he believed to be unloaded when it fired and wounded a man. A Mesa County jury in Sept. 2009 found Bacher not guilty of third-degree assault in connection with the shooting.
When asked by a reporter Monday if he had any concerns about how the shooting may impact his credibility on the committee, Bacher replied, “I have nothing to say about it.”
Bacher did say he hopes the volunteer program will involve armed and unarmed citizens who will go through a screening process, mental evaluation, education process, negotiation training and pass a “fitness standard.” He said if the district or community members are uncertain about the idea, rolling out a program at five schools on a trial basis should be considered.
“I’m just glad we’re talking about it,” he said.
Cox presented the idea at Monday’s meeting of allowing teachers to exercise conceal and carry permits at schools. He said schools ideally would keep information about which teachers have guns confidential to help students feel comfortable, and principals would have the right to refuse to allow an individual teacher or any teacher to carry guns at a particular school.
Fellow committee member Chuck Mathis of the Grand Junction Fire Department said he wants safe schools but he doesn’t think teachers with guns are the answer.
“Nobody knows what that person’s going to do when someone is coming at them with an automatic weapon. It could be a bigger problem for schools and law enforcement,” Mathis said.
Group member Carl Mitchell said he’s heard teachers say they would resign if guns were allowed in schools. Rick Peterson, a teacher at Central High School, said no one at a recent staff meeting at the school said they wanted to have a concealed weapon at work.
“It’s not because of a fear of weapons, but a fear of responsibility,” Peterson said.
Cox said he has spoken to teachers who would want to have a concealed gun at school, but there is no wide-ranging survey of teachers that he knows of.
“In a high-intensity situation, you don’t know how anyone will react, you just have to hope for the best,” he said. “If you do have a firearm present, you can at least shoot back at them.”
School Resource Officer Jeff Grady, who is based at Grand Junction High School, also made a presentation at Monday’s meeting. He explained the role of resource officers in schools and said he would appreciate having more eyes in the schools. He said he would want those volunteers, though, to be unarmed, at least given feedback he has received so far from the public.
“I spoke to Kiwanis and they have lots of people who are retired and want to volunteer but they don’t want to be armed,” he said.
Grady added it has taken him a long time to get to his level of training and he’s uncertain about the idea of training volunteers and then immediately sending them into schools with guns.
The group meetings are open to the public, although public comment will not be taken. Instead, public comment is being accepted through http://www.mesa.k12.co.us/contactus.cfm.