Guns aren’t only issue 
in school-safety debate

We can’t disagree with the most-discussed part of the District 51 School Security and Safety Work Group’s recommendations, which were released this week. That is the decision to eliminate any recommendation for arming school personnel or volunteers to protect schools.

But buried deeper within the list of recommendations the Work Group presented to the District 51 School Board this week are several that may be more important to protecting local students in the long run. They involve enhanced efforts to identify and deal with bullying and suicide.

The much-discussed arming of school personnel and volunteers was not included among the recommendations for a variety of reasons. First, there was the fact that the working group couldn’t come close to a consensus for including such a recommendation. In fact, only two of the group’s members appeared strongly in favor of recommending the schools allow armed personnel or volunteers.

Secondly, and perhaps most importantly, there is no groundswell of support for the idea among school teachers, administrators, custodial staff or the public at large, based on surveys conducted by the district.

That’s understandable. As we’ve noted before, even highly trained police officers have a poor rate of shooting success when they are involved in firefights with criminal suspects. School staff members or local volunteers, even if they have the best of intentions, are unlikely to have the same level of training in armed-conflict situations that police officers receive.

It’s one thing to use a gun to defend your own home from an intruder. It’s quite another to respond correctly in a public setting where there are many innocent people, along with armed attackers, and it’s not immediately apparent which is which.

The working group included a number of reasonable recommendations such as having more secure school buildings with better doors, panic buttons and two-way radios. It also suggested additional funding is needed for school resource officers who are trained police officers.

But some of the most important recommendations involved dealing with student problems before they escalate into armed attacks. That’s important, we believe, because a number of the high-profile mass shootings at schools — notably Columbine in 1999 — involved killers who believed they had been bullied or victimized by some of their classmates.

Even if bullying doesn’t lead directly to such horrible attacks, it creates other problems that undermine learning and student safety. The attack documented earlier this year at Fruita 8-9 School is a very public indication of how bullying can create problems. Other, less publicized events from different schools in the district also indicate problems that some students have in simply trying to obtain an education.

The School Security and Safety Work Group obviously took to heart its charge to examine a wide variety of possible options for boosting school security, and it did so in a relatively short amount of time. We hope the District 51 School Board and administration are able to quickly adopt — within the constraints of a limited budget, of course — the bulk of the groups’s recommendations.


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