Douglas County School District officials recently gave the community a comprehensive update on district security, including clarification and details on the training and potential use of 10 new semi-automatic rifles.
During the July 19 school board meeting, officials also explained changes they have made regarding school security and school resource officers based on an investigative report into the 2013 Arapahoe High School shooting in which a student killed a classmate and himself.
1. Community discussion
Community members voiced concerns in the weeks following the April announcement of the district's purchase of the rifles. The purchase price for the guns was $12,300 and was approved by then-Superintendent Elizabeth Fagen, who has since left for a new job in Texas.
Chief Operating Officer Thomas Tsai apologized for the lack of public discussion on the matter, but said in the case of security, the district can't be 100 percent transparent.
“This is one of those unique, narrow areas where by being too transparent, you do give away the advantage from the people you are trying to prevent from knowing things about our schools, or protocol and our safety,” Tsai said.
Board member Anne-Marie Lemieux said the presentation helped put to rest many rumors that had been circulating on social media about the weapons and that it “really lifted a big concern off of our community.”
2. Qualifications for armed security
The district has employed armed security officers since 2003.
Security director Richard Payne explained that the eight armed officers currently employed by the district all have extensive police or military backgrounds and have all earned POST — Police Officer Standards Training — certificates. Payne described the certificate as “similar to a teacher receiving a teacher's license.”
“My team is very well qualified to not only hold handguns, but in my opinion, long rifles,” Payne said.
Insurance requirements for armed security include firearms training once a year — though DCSD requires it twice per year, through the Douglas County Sheriff's Office — as well as POST certification or its equivalent.
3. Responsibilities for armed officers
“In no shape or form was a decision made that we want to start our own police department within the school district,” Payne said. “(The thinking) was, I want to outfit my guys who may partner with a (school resource officer) or first responders and may be the first ones on scene.”
Armed security officers at the district have done training with local law enforcement to handle a number of potential duties in an emergency situation.
“When we did our active gunman training with the sheriff's department, not only did we do active gunman training, but we also had medical trauma and response recovery training— applying turnicates and removing people from the building — that could be our role when we show up on scene too,” Payne said.
Other duties may include: custody issues, disruptions at schools, employee issues, school building checks and security at meetings.
4. Three coverage zones
The Douglas County School District comprises 87 school and about 67,000 students. It is divided into three security coverage zones: Highlands Ranch, Parker and Castle Rock.
Highlands Ranch: Four high schools, four middle schools, 23 elementary schools and one alternative school.
Parker: Three high schools, three middle schools and 14 elementary schools.
Castle Rock: Two high schools, two middle schools, 12 elementary schools, one alternative school and an outdoor school.
5. Learning from Arapahoe
Payne said the district has taken a number of the recommendations from an investigative report into the 2013 shooting at Arapahoe High School and incorporated changes into its security plan.
Changes include having officers eat and take breaks at different times, wearing the same uniforms throughout the district — black pants and gray shirts that's say "SECURITY" on the back — and performing more detailed reporting procedures for security checks.
In addition, school resource officers will be under the district safety department's jurisdiction rather than reporting directly to individual schools. Evaluations of resource officers will now be done in part by the district and in part by the school they work at.