School board candidates differ on arming of teachers, staff

After school shooting, security is top of mind for board hopefuls

Posted 10/9/19

As the Nov. 5 election draws near, three candidates running in the Douglas County School Board election have taken a strong stance against the prospect of arming teachers and staff in local schools, …

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School board candidates differ on arming of teachers, staff

After school shooting, security is top of mind for board hopefuls

Posted

As the Nov. 5 election draws near, three candidates running in the Douglas County School Board election have taken a strong stance against the prospect of arming teachers and staff in local schools, while three others say they are open to discussing it.

The different approaches to security come amid a school year that kicked off with debate over armed-staff policies after a local charter school began a program allowing some employees to carry firearms.

Near the end of last school year, in May, a shooting at STEM School Highlands Ranch thrust the community into conversations about school safety. One student died and eight others were injured during the incident.

The following is a look at the six candidates’ views on arming teachers and staff at schools in the county.

District F

Candidate Kory Nelson said arming teachers is not a priority for him but he’s open to discussing it for Douglas County schools. His opponent, incumbent and board President David Ray, stands staunchly opposed.

Nelson stressed he’s more focused on bolstering the school resource officer program in Douglas County than he is exploring an armed-staff policy. But he’d be open to considering the issue as a board member if it’s of interest to the community.

He doesn’t believe the majority of teachers want to carry firearms at school — his parents were teachers in Nebraska and his wife teaches in the district — but he’s not sure how the broader community feels on the topic. Nelson said armed teachers and staff is not a conversation the sitting school board has allowed to take place.

“Do I think it’s the right decision, or the wrong decision? That’s not my priority. I’m willing to listen,” Nelson said. “I don’t know what our parents think because they haven’t been heard from.”

Ray opposes arming staff in Douglas County public schools. Ray was traveling outside the U.S. at the time of the reporting of this article and answered questions via email.

He said the responsibility to provide safe schools goes beyond school staff, and also includes first responders, fire departments, mental health providers and law enforcement agencies.

“None of these agencies recommend arming staff, other than those that are trained and hired for the specific purpose of security,” Ray said. “Given that they are the experts in these areas, I support their recommendations.”

He believes the district has “cohesive relationships” with the sheriff’s office and municipalities and said, “we take their lead in recommending safety practices for the public and community.”

Ray said he “might feel differently” about armed staff in areas where law enforcement coverage is sparse, but he does not support such a policy in Douglas County.

Nelson said he opposes state-mandated gun-free zones because rural schools may have less law enforcement coverage and should be allowed to decide at the district level whether or not to arm staff.

District C

Candidate Franceen Thompson, parent of a former STEM School student, is open-minded toward arming teachers.

Thompson said via email that children’s safety is too important to “allow irrational politics to take any option off the table without thorough consideration.” Thompson’s daughter was a senior at STEM at the time of the May 7 shooting that left senior Kendrick Castillo dead.

“I believe all security options must be on the table, including allowing certain staff who are willing and properly trained — and in cooperation with law enforcement — to be armed,” Thompson said.

When speaking with Colorado Communtiy Media by phone, Thompson said experiencing the STEM tragedy is why she chose to run but she’s always supported considering all secruity options.

Thompson’s position on the matter became the “tipping point” that Elizabeth Hanson, her opponent, said pushed her to run.

Hanson said she chose to run mostly in hopes of improving the district’s employee retention and work culture. She has a background in labor and employment law.

But arming teachers is an issue Hanson said she’s passionate about addressing. She’s firmly against armed staff “under any circumstance,” she said, and as she considered a run, learning Thompson is open to the idea of arming teachers and staff helped sway her toward adding her name to the ballot.

She called arming teachers and staff reckless, dangerous and “a misguided effort to keep our children safe.”

“There’s just such an element of potential human error,” Hanson said.

District A

When asked if he supports arming teachers and staff at local schools, candidate Andy Jones said he’ll work with various stakeholders to evaluate school security practices. Jones was traveling outside the U.S. at the time of this article and answered questions via email.

“If I am fortunate enough to be elected to this school board, I look forward to working with my fellow board members and listening to staff, experts, the community and law enforcement to determine the best ways to keep each of our kids in every one of our schools safe,” he said.

Jones’ opponent, Susan Meek, supports current district policy, which says the only people who can carry firearms at school are those hired specifically for security. She opposes allowing teachers and staff to carry firearms at school or school functions.

Meek, who ran for school board in 2011 and worked as a spokeswoman for the Douglas County School District from 2009-11, said school safety is a key issue in this election and top of mind for those running.

“I think it’s extremely important for all the candidates,” she said. “I’ve heard all candidates talking about it.”

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