Three themes emerged at the Douglas County School Board meeting Tuesday evening addressing the shootings at the Highlands Ranch STEM School: Securing schools, armed personnel in the schools and improving student mental health resources.
Not everyone agreed with all three themes, but the call for more comprehensive mental health care resources was unanimous.
The school board invited the public to comment on their concerns and ideas about the incident at their regular meeting. The listening session gave the board the opportunity to gather information on the issue of school safety.
Nearly 200 people packed the board’s hearing room in Castle Rock, along with a strong media presence.
Board President David Ray (shown far left) began the meeting with recognition of the courage and sacrifice of the students and staff who took down the killers. Everyone observed a moment of silence to honor Kendrick Castillo, who lost his life selflessly protecting his fellow students.
After disposing of regular board business, including a public hearing on a charter school application, the public hearing on the shooting began at about 7:15 p.m.
Claudia English, a freshman at Highlands Ranch High School, said that students at her school are suffering, saying that while the school recently installed new bleachers, the bathrooms are covered in graffiti about shooting people and suicide, and that there are few mental health resources available.
“I have not once been informed who my school counselor is,” said English. “I want to see me and my peers graduate safely.”
Pointing out the dozen police, sheriff and school security officers both inside and outside the meeting room, Madison Short, a district student said, “There are more armed security guards in this room than there are in my school. Mental health education is school shooting prevention.”
Short also said, “Arming teachers is not the solution.”
Marty McMillan, a district parent, said her mother used to worry about her when she walked to and from school, not while she was in class.
“Today when I drop off my daughter, I worry all day,” McMillan said. “The mental health crisis has become an epidemic.”
Calling for the immediate installation of metal detectors and “properly trained and armed personnel” McMillan said, “The only way to prevent this in the short term is to keep guns out of the school. We need action now and a solution now.”
Abdi Rashid disagreed, saying, “Metal detectors are not the answer. It’s a deterrent to motivate the student to find another way to get the gun into the school.”
Joy Overbeck, a district resident, Townhall columnist and occasional Complete Colorado editorial contributor said, “Proximity to the shooter is critical. Our first responder was Kendrick. Kendrick was right there, so were the other two men, they were able to stop these shooters.”
“The bald truth is that if there is not a good guy with a gun more kids will die,” Overbeck continued.
Overbeck challenged the board to schedule a public town hall and invite Laura Carno of FASTER Colorado, a non-profit organization that sponsors comprehensive firearms and trauma response training to teachers and other school staff, to give the community a presentation on its programs.
Mark Goldman, a STEM school parent said, “my wife, my kids and I are scarred in ways we never imagined. Our kids have taken bullets for each other.”
Voicing concern about the impact of social media and family fragmentation on children, Goldman recommended a program to bring in fathers to elementary schools as role models and mentors.
He also strongly recommended that mobile devices be completely banned in schools, citing evidence that the average attention span of adults has decreased from 15 minutes to 8 seconds thanks to the ubiquity of communications and information. “We empowered our kids to be connected and yet disconnected,” he said.
Julie Lamb agreed with Goldman.
“We never actually listen to those working with the kids, the teachers,” said Lamb. “Many [children] are battling stories in their heads. Nobody is listening to the kids.”
“We need walkabout dads at our schools,” she continued.
Melissa Witts, who was herself shot 20 years ago and has two children in district schools spoke about social isolation at home.
“The thing that’s devastating is how many kids are unloved at home,” she said. “We very much live these days in our own bubble.”
Witts strongly supported securing schools, saying, “we need one port of entry.”
Linda Childs, a grandmother to a student at STEM Highlands Ranch said, “So many things went right. However, communication to parents was not so good.”
She said that there was a 20 to 30–minute delay in STEM parents being alerted.
Childs said that police had a difficult time speaking to a thousand anxious parents waiting to find their kids at the Northridge Recreation Center. She suggested police should have a portable public address system.
She also suggested that parents should attend some school safety drills so they will know what to do in the future.
Childs said there were communications problems within the school and that systems need to be improved for interoperability among both schools and emergency responders.
Douglas County School District Superintendent Thomas Tucker responded that the nature of charter schools and state law means that charter schools “buy their own services” from the district, and that the district has no control over what they select.
Highlands Ranch STEM School did not have a School Resource Officer on staff. Instead it hired a private armed security guard who stopped the second killer.
Ray said that the district gave STEM a radio that was compatible with their systems.
Ray promised that all citizens comments would go on the record and would be considered as part of policy discussions in response to the shooting.