CASTLE ROCK – Back-to-school days are exciting times – new class assignments and teachers, new computers, new books and new learning tools stuffed in new backpacks.
Added to the list of “new” things, Douglas County School District students were also greeted in August by law enforcement officers dressed in a “soft uniform” of khaki pants and black shirts. Several of the officers are friendly faces known to students who participated in the DARE program in recent years.
“Keeping our students safe in the classroom is our number one priority,” said Superintendent Dr. Elizabeth Fagen.
Douglas County Schools are well known for excellence – consistently soaring to the top in Colorado public school rankings – and innovation in curriculum, charter schools and school choice.
The district’s innovative School Marshal Program is designed to increase safety in partnership with the Douglas County Sheriff’s Office and Castle Rock, Parker and Lone Tree Police Departments.
“This partnership goes to show how incredible our community partners are and what can be done when we all come together and put our children first,” said Fagen.
After the Sandy Hook Elementary tragedy, the district began working on the plan to increase security measures and budgeting funds to compensate the county sheriff’s office and police departments.
Law enforcement officers spend several hours a day at elementary, middle and charter schools in addition to high schools which already had resource officers. Their presence is unknown by those outside of the schools because the marshals arrive in unmarked cars.
The district’s safety plan is on the forefront of a trend developing in schools across the country. Though some critics have balked at the idea of having armed security on school grounds – the idea is favored by most American parents.
According to a recent Rasmussen Reports Survey, 62 percent of 1,000 parents of children in elementary or secondary schools said they would feel safer if their schools had an armed guard present. Just 24 percent of the surveyed parents said they would feel safer if their child went to a school where no adult would be armed, and 15 percent were undecided.
The telephone poll, conducted Aug. 4 – 5 by Pulse Opinion Research, has a plus-or-minus 3 percent margin of sampling error with a 95 percent level of confidence.
Apparently Democrat and Republican legislators in the Colorado House understood that sentiment – but not Democrat leaders House Speaker Mark Ferrandino of Denver and Senate President John Morse of Colorado Springs, who is now facing a recall initiated by his constituents.
After being postponed for a month, on the eve of the final day of the legislative session in May, the House passed a resolution, sponsored by Republicans Rep. Chris Holbert of Parker and Sen. Kevin Grantham of Canon City, in support of individual school districts developing a safety policy and hiring security guards or peace officers with concealed carry handgun permits.
The resolution “encourages each school district of the state, through its authority to exercise local control and make decisions that are best for students, parents, teachers and administrative staff, to consider employing armed security officers in each school of the school district.”
Because the resolution was not put on the calendar until the zero hour, however, the Senate never had an opportunity to vote on it.
The Democrat-dominated Senate Judiciary Committee shot down a bill that would have authorized school district boards and charter school governing boards to set policies to allow an employee to carry a permitted concealed handgun on school grounds. Despite that, Senate Bill 13-009 sponsored by Republican Sens. Scott Renfroe of Greeley and Ted Harvey of Highlands Ranch – whose wife is a teacher and daughter a student in Douglas County – sparked debate in Colorado’s school districts and law enforcement agencies.
Teachers’ unions have opposed arming teachers – and maintain that school grounds should be “gun-free” zones.
But Douglas County isn’t the only district that has decided not to march to the orders of the union.
Another example is Dolores County School District, which approved a policy to allow the superintendent and a high school principal to carry permitted concealed handguns on school grounds because law enforcement response time can be longer in the rural community.