Additional security officers will be stationed at five schools in District 51 starting today, a precaution put in place in response to recent school shootings and threats.
"While the events of what happened in Florida are still fresh in everyone's mind, we want to make an extra effort to ensure that students and parents feel comfortable at school," said the announcement made Monday evening, which was sent via text, automated phone calls and email to parents and staff of the schools that will have more security.
Parents dropping students off at the Fruita 8-9 school and Fruita Monument, Grand Junction, Central and Palisade high schools may notice more security on campus today. District officials said the increased security is a precaution, not a response to a specific threat at any of the schools. However, the district announced Monday it is hiring additional security guards on a permanent basis.
"The timing of it is just in light of what happened last week in Florida and locally," said District 51 spokeswoman Cat Foster, adding that district staff noticed a heightened response from parents after the shooting at a Parkland, Florida, high school on Valentine's Day that left 17 people dead. A day later, a 15-year-old Grand Junction High School student allegedly bragged to others that he could have done more damage and fantasized about shooting up his school. He was arrested on suspicion of felony and misdemeanor crimes and is currently being held at the Division of Youth Corrections. The district also postponed a basketball game at Fruita Monument after an incident with a suicidal man in the neighborhood.
Foster said the increased security is in response to the tension after all of these incidents.
"We want students to feel safe at school and we want parents to feel comfortable dropping their kids off at school," she said.
The extra security at those five schools will be provided through a contract with Citadel Security USA, Foster said. The company, headquartered in Rifle, provides uniformed security for a wide variety of situations, from the ESPN Winter X Games to courthouse security, according to its website.
The district has hired Citadel personnel before, according to Tim Leon, the district's director of safety and security. Leon said the contract with Citadel for security at the schools requires officers who are trained to carry firearms.
Leon said he wasn't sure how much the additional security will cost, but said the money will come from the mill levy override passed by voters last year that included a provision for security. The Citadel security will help fill gaps in coverage that aren't currently covered by security officers hired by the district and school-resource officers, law enforcement officers assigned to schools by their departments, Leon said. There are currently seven school-resource officers who work between schools in the valley, which includes officers specifically assigned to Central High School and Grand Junction High School and others who float between schools.
District 51 is also hoping to hire two security officers to join its four-person team this spring, and two more by fall 2018, Leon said. The district began hiring its own armed security in 2014 and they're currently assigned to Palisade and R-5 high schools and float between middle schools and elementary schools the remainder of the time, Leon said.
"Today's decision was based on need and the availability of funding," Leon said. "We just felt like we needed to do this."