Mancos school board backs away from arming school staff

Thursday, Jan. 25, 2018 3:56 PM
About 60 parents, teachers and residents attended the Mancos school board’s meeting Monday to discuss campus security.
The Mancos school board and audience on Monday watch a video promoting a training program for arming school staff.

Residents came out in force to the Mancos school board’s meeting this week to voice their opinions about the main agenda item: arming school staff.

About 60 residents, teachers and parents attended the Monday’s meeting, and 22 people addressed the board. Of the 22, three favored arming staff, three were on the fence and 16 opposed arming staff.

Some were concerned about the district’s current security measures, the social and emotional health of students and the lack of notice given to parents about the issue. Some said that they did not want to overreact to the recent Aztec High School shooting, and some hoped that the recently passed bond measure would help fund security improvements on campus.

In the end, school board members voted to wait and see if planned construction improvements would make the campus more secure.

Josh Gardner, a Mancos parent and health teacher, has mixed feeling about arming staff with guns.

“The whole point of having an armed staff, in my eyes, is to have a quicker response time,” he said. “I do not think teachers in the classroom should have a visual gun.”

Dolores fourth-grade teacher Sherry Grazda was concerned about creating a fearful learning environment.

“Learning is based on relationships, and my belief is that relationships are built on trust, and fear breaks and damages trust consciously or unconsciously. Guns create a feeling of fear, and when you have fear as a child, you cannot learn,” she said.

Monty Guiles, a former board member and the current owner’s representative for the district’s construction project, said arming staff was a “slippery slope.”

“I would remind this board that a lot of the people in here today I recognize from our efforts in getting you a BEST grant to secure our school, and there are many things that we are not doing currently that would secure our school that are being contemplated in the BEST grant,” he said.

Guiles’ comments appeared to give some attendees reason for pause.

“Just because I hunt and shoot does not mean I think we should arbitrarily arm people,” Theresa Oakes said. “They should be tactically trained, and they should go through all of the mental things they need to go through. The only thing that I know of that stops a gun is unfortunately another gun, and if you have somebody that is trained right to stop that other gun, then I am all for it. But then, the BEST grant was brought up. I am on the line.”

After almost an hour of public comment, the board discussed the issue at length.

“What this vote is supposed to be tonight is whether we are going to pursue the possibility and put together protocols, practices and policies that allow for the arming of staff if in fact that is something we have volunteers that are willing to go through proper training to do,” board member Tim Hunter said. “My stance on this is to have another tool in the toolbox, and if you are not prepared, you are not prepared.”

Other board members questioned whether current security measures were sufficient.

“For me there are just too many risks,” said Blake Mitchell, board president. “Our doors need to be locked. Period. Limit access – I think there is a lot of research that will show that in itself is the No. 1 thing we can do as a school.”

Mitchell added that he wanted teachers to focus on teaching.

Pamela Coppinger, a previous teacher and a current board member, wondered about the impact of locking all the doors. “We have that sense of community and innocence, and I hate to lose that,” she said.

Board Vice President Boe Hawkins questioned whether the board had done its due diligence by reaching out to community members and parents on the issue.

Hunter made the motion to pursue policies and procedures related to armed staff and armed security officers at schools.

After some confusion from the audience, Mitchell clarified the motion.

“The motion is to move forward with the possibility of coming up with a resolution and a policy change that would allow our district to arm administrators and staff if the board sees fit. It doesn’t mean we are going to, it means we are going to keep pursuing this further out,” Mitchell said.

After a second by Hawkins, the motion failed 4 to 1. Only Hunter voted in favor of the motion.

The board agreed to remind school staff to monitor doors. Mitchell told Superintendent Brian Hanson that the current security at the district was “unacceptable.”

“All these studies that are coming out about what we can do to keep our kids safe is to limit access, and we have to limit access,” Mitchell said. “... we have to do something better than we are doing now.”

And discussion returned to whether a bond measure, passed on Nov. 7 to fund remodeling, would improve security.

“I think this is a timing issue; I think we are not ready to talk about this,” Hawkins said. “I think we need to finish up the bond and see what we got and if we need to move forward with it. I am not completely against having armed staff if we need it. I just do not know that we need it yet.”