When two students began a deadly shooting attack on the STEM School in Highlands Ranch last May, a private security guard working at the school shot and wounded an uninvolved student while accidentally firing at a responding sheriff’s deputy, the Colorado Sun reported recently.
The security officer wasn’t supposed to be armed. The Douglas County School District had requested an unarmed guard for the school from a private security contractor. The security officer’s actions are being reviewed by the 4th Judicial District Attorney’s office to determine if there was any criminal wrongdoing.
We share this to point out two things: One is that a highly trained security officer acting on instinct in the midst of chaos endangered people he was supposed to protect. The guard had previously worked as a Jefferson County sheriff’s deputy where training is required.
This illustrates the problematic nature of arming teachers, something District 51 officials have wisely declined to do. The New York Times periodically reviews officer-involved shootings, finding that police officers routinely miss their targets more than half the time. Some years, accuracy is as low as 17 percent. If trained officers struggle to shoot straight in the heat of conflict, we can only imagine how teachers — no matter how much training they receive — would fare.
The second point is that District 51 has its own security team of former law enforcement officers. They provide security at schools where the district’s law enforcement partners do not. Resource officers — employees of local law enforcement agencies — are present in the valley’s high schools and middle schools. District 51 “gray shirts” cover elementary schools and anywhere else they’re needed.
The district isn’t relying on private contractors for additional security. Most private security firms don’t train to the same standards as police officers. But to meet insurance provider’s requirements, D51 security employees must be certified by Colorado’s Peace Officer Standards and Training protocols a minimum of once a year. The team trains with firearms every other month.
In 2013, a committee of school district administrators, parents, law enforcement officials and community members formed to study school safety in the wake of the Sandy Hook Elementary School shooting in Newtown, Connecticut.
The committee recommended an extensive training program if the school board instituted a policy to arm teachers. The board didn’t do that. But it did respond to recommendations for more school resource officers, security personnel and security upgrades like electronic door locks, more security camera and secure vestibules.
When the district received a grant to offset some of the cost of building the new Orchard Mesa Middle School, it dedicated a portion of the savings to beefing up security districtwide.
What happened at the STEM school shows that having armed guards — even those with a law enforcement background — guarantees nothing. But it’s a better idea than arming teachers and District 51 seems to be taking every precaution to make sure its security officers are prepared for a worst-case scenario.
This is a very tricky needle to thread. But one thing seems clear: hardening schools by design is a better solution than arming Mr. Kotter.