School Safety in Douglas County
Douglas County is located south of the capital city of Denver, Colorado. This scenic county combines vast open spaces with small, densely populated towns. The county seat is in Castle Rock. Other cities and towns include Lone Tree, Parker, Larkspur, Sedalia and parts of Littleton and Aurora.
With an estimated population of about 358,000 people, Douglas County is home to the third largest school district in Colorado, the Douglas County School District RE-1 (DCSD). Composed of 48 elementary schools, 9 middle schools, 9 high schools, 5 alternative schools and 20 charter schools, the 91 schools in the district serve 68,000 students.
The current seven-member Board of Education took office after the November 2017 election. They are:
President – David Ray, District F firstname.lastname@example.org
Vice-President – Wendy Vogel, District A email@example.com
Treasurer – Anne-Marie Lemieux, District C firstname.lastname@example.org
Secretary – Krista Holtzmann, District G email@example.com
Anthony Graziano, District B firstname.lastname@example.org
Christina Ciancio-Schor, District D email@example.com
Kevin Leung, District E firstname.lastname@example.org
The superintendent is Dr. Thomas S. Tucker, Ph.D. He was previously the superintendent of the Princeton City Schools in Cincinnati, Ohio. (Phone: 303-387-0123)
The Douglas County Sheriff is Tony Spurlock. He has overall responsibility for law enforcement in the county, supplemented by local police forces in the cities and towns. Unfortunately, he also strongly supported the 2019 “red flag” bill, HB 19-1177, which passed the legislature on a strictly partisan basis this year. This unconstitutional bill is problematic for several reasons, not least of which are the lack of due process and the standards of evidence that are prescribed.
Douglas County was the scene of the recent STEM school shooting, wherein two shooters opened fire on students, killing one and wounding eight. The one fatality – Kendrick Castillo – heroically rushed one of the shooters, enabling other students to escape.
Due to a dispute with the Sheriff’s Office, the STEM school did not have an armed school resource officer (SRO) on duty, instead having a private security guard who was armed even though he was not supposed to be. Despite this, the school was still targeted and nine students were shot.
Prior to August 23rd, the perception in the community was that the DCSD school board was not friendly to the concept of armed school staff. That perception was clarified on Tuesday, August 20 when Superintendent Tucker told the interim legislative committee on school safety that his district will not allow teachers to be armed, and if charter schools allow for armed staff they will be asked to leave the district.
This declaration was followed up four days later with an email from Board Treasurer Anne-Marie Lemieux to Dr. Tucker where she stated her unequivocal opposition to armed staff as follows:
“I am firm (no friendly about it) in my absolute disapproval of arming staff. District policy states only those with “armed” in their job description are allowed to carry firearms — that includes trained security.
I expect compliance — period. Please research immediately if they received a waiver of this policy and if they did — do we have any recourse. (sic)”
In a subsequent posting on Facebook, Superintendent Tucker and Board President David Ray said that “Douglas County School District absolutely supports the best practice of having dedicated, armed security in place at school”, but the armed security must meet the following criteria:
- They have to be Peace Officer Standards and Training (POST) certified. (Note, FASTER Colorado requires a POST + 2 certification)
- Be uniformed and carrying a firearm openly
- No concealed carry allowed
Further, the memo states “Douglas County School District does not support the arming of any staff member who is not a dedicated security officer. In addition, we do not support the concealment of arms by our dedicated security personnel.”
Ostensibly, this is supposed to “ensure that law enforcement knows who is armed – and who is not – in the case of an emergency…”, however it explicitly disallows armed staff on campus, despite clear evidence that armed staff prevents school shootings.
There are a few problems with this. First, not every school in the district has an assigned SRO. Some schools are “covered” by the “School Marshal Program” (SMP), which means that periodically through the day, a law enforcement officer will visit the school, but is not on continuous duty at that school. Second, by clearly stating in their Facebook post which schools have coverage and which do not, they are painting a target on the schools that do not have full time SRO coverage. Third, SRO’s, while they are an integral part of a comprehensive security plan, have been known to fail to protect students. The most notable example of this is former sheriff’s deputy Scot Peterson, the SRO at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School in Parkland, FL.
Finally, this policy paints a target on the uniformed, openly armed personnel. Any potential school shooters would merely need to wait for the SRO to leave or be in another area of campus or shoot them first. By openly stating what the protective measures are (and are not), Tucker and Ray are giving any potential bad guys the operational intelligence they need to defeat those measures. I guess they’re OK with unarmed teenage defenders like Kendrick Castillo throwing their bodies between school shooters and their fellow students.
What Can Parents Do?
Every parent should have the expectation that their kids will come home safely after every day at school. According to Laura Carno, Executive Director of FASTER Colorado, “I have heard from parents who don’t like guns themselves who still want their children protected by someone who’s armed. All parents want their kids returned to them alive every day. That’s not too high a bar”. For this reason, parents should demand that their school boards look at school safety from a realistic standpoint.
But how can parents translate their demand for school safety into action? There are several immediate steps that can be taken.
First, call or email the school board and the superintendent to let them know your thoughts. We urge you to be polite and respectful, but firm in your requests that kids be protected by any and all means possible.
Second, attend school board meetings and use the public comment time to make your views known. Prepare your remarks in advance and prepare to be allowed to speak for about three minutes.
Third, attend town halls with like-minded parents. These types of events are great for educating people on the issues, and there is strength in numbers. A group of parents has a stronger voice than one or two by themselves. Bullets Both Ways’ Foundation – Angel Shield – will be hosting events of this nature in the coming weeks and months. Its first School Safety and Security Forum (with a School Safety Panel) is coming up on Thursday, October 24th at 6pm in South Denver. Contact Angel Shield for more details.
Fourth, plan to attend and possibly testify at the Colorado General Assembly’s interim committee on school safety. At the very least, you can write an email to the committee members to make your views known. Write to your state representative and senator about your concerns.
Lastly, you can talk to your friends and neighbors. Talk to your church community. Talk to your co-workers.
The Douglas County School Board email addresses are included above. Other helpful links are listed below. Take action now. Kids deserve to be safe in school.
By Richard D. Turnquist
Douglas County School District: https://www.dcsdk12.org/
Douglas County Sheriff: http://www.dcsheriff.net/
Abe Laydon, District 1 email@example.com
Roger Partridge, District 2 firstname.lastname@example.org
Lora Thomas, District 3 email@example.com
Colorado General Assembly: https://leg.colorado.gov/
Jim Smallwood, SD #4 firstname.lastname@example.org
Chris Holbert, SD #30 email@example.com
Mark Baisley, HD #39 firstname.lastname@example.org
Kevin Van Winkle, HD #43 email@example.com
Kim Ransom, HD #44 firstname.lastname@example.org
Patrick Neville, HD #45 email@example.com
Angel Shield (501c3 Public Charity):