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  • Should school teachers be armed in class?

    Proposal has proponents, but most local educators oppose it

    Some politicians and law-enforcement officials have proposed fighting fire with fire – arming school teachers and administrators with concealed weapons as a way to slowdown or stop a gunman.

    The idea is strongly opposed by local school officials.

    “Our teachers have a large enough responsibility of delivering quality instruction to ensure that every student masters Colorado state standards,” said Daniel Snowberger, superintendant of Durango School District 9-R. “The last thing I need is for our teachers to have one more responsibility on their plate. They have full plates.”

    Instead, he advocates strong partnerships between school officials and law enforcement. Periodic visits by deputies and school-resource officers are a more sensible approach than arming teachers, he said.

    “Let’s get the people who are trained and can respond in a situation like this to be in our schools,” Snowberger said.

    La Plata County Sheriff Duke Schirard supports arming teachers.

    So does Undersheriff David Griggs. If teachers and administrators volunteered to go through a concealed-weapon course and a combat course – “kind of what we do” – it could slow down a shooter or reverse the rising trend in school shootings, he said.

    But Durango Police Chief Jim Spratlen said arming teachers could be dangerous.

    Law-enforcement officers are highly trained to recognize the “good guys from the bad guys,” he said. He worries that a teacher could accidentally shoot a police officer who is wearing plain clothes.

    “If we were to show up in plain clothes into a situation where there’s an active gunman in a school, we would be really worried that there might be a teacher out there seeing us with a gun and wouldn’t recognize a badge or a gun,” Spratlen said. “It could get very convoluted. It could become very dangerous.

    “There would have to be a very high level of training.”

    Rocco Fushetto, superintendent of Ignacio School District, said: “We are educators, we are not security guards.”

    The Dolores County School District, north of Cortez, last month voted to allow the Dove Creek High School principal and district superintendent to carry firearms onto school grounds. They must complete a concealed-carry course, obtain a permit from the Dolores County Sheriff’s Office and satisfy additional training qualifications.

    They will receive $1 more per year to satisfy a legal requirement in their contracts for taking on the added responsibility as security guards.

    School officials said it was necessary to arm the principal and superintendant because of the school’s remoteness and how long it could take for law enforcement to respond.

    Talk of arming school officials began well before the Dec. 14, 2013, shooting at Sandy Hook Elementary in Newtown, Conn., they said.

    The Mancos Marshal’s Office also has been kicking around the idea of allowing school staff members to carry concealed weapons. The idea was discussed in Archuleta County and later rejected in favor of creating a school-resource officer program, which puts certified police officers in schools to relate with students and teach classes about good life-choices.

    While learning from a national tragedy is beneficial, it also is important not to overreact, said Kathy Morris, the safe-school coordinator for the San Juan Board of Cooperative Educational Services, which helps nine school districts in Southwest Colorado with safety-related issues.

    “There’s a little bit of knee-jerk reaction going on by some folks, not all of them,” she said. “It’s a natural instinct to initially overreact.”

    She said: “We cannot continue to make decisions in fear. There are never any good outcomes to decisions made when there’s the mindset of fear.”

    Colorado has 178 school districts, and only 13 have armed security guards employed by the schools, a number that doesn’t include school-resource officers, she said.

    A study has found about 80 percent of concealed-weapon carriers are ineffective and dangerous, she said. The reason is a lack of training.

    “We as educators have never ever had to be first responders,” Morris said. “All of us now are left with the challenge of being first responders, and it has been an uphill climb.”

    Teachers and students need to think more critically about reacting to threats rather than sitting in a room and becoming a victim, Morris said.

    Undersheriff Griggs said school shooters don’t want a confrontation – that’s why they’re at a school. But teachers, custodians and parents can fend for themselves, even if they don’t have a gun.

    “Just because you don’t have a gun and they do doesn’t mean you can’t pick up something and hit them in the head with it,” Griggs said. “It doesn’t have to be in a school – it can be in a Walmart, it can be anywhere. Don’t be a victim.”

    shane@durangoherald.com

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