The topic on everyone’s mind at the monthly Mancos School Board meeting was school safety.
Board treasurer Tim Hunter brought up the question of arming school staff early in the meeting, leading to discussion among board members, and another discussion at the end of the meeting when parents spoke their opinions.
“I think it is time we brought up talking about our armed response within our school staff again, and looking within our staff to find willing participants to go to that program (a training program),” Hunter said. “Nobody ever expects anything like that to happen in our district, but Aztec is right next door, and nobody ever expected anything like that at their school.”
Hunter also pointed out that a hole exists within a law enforcement time frame.
“We have talked about this (training to arm school staff) with the sheriff’s department and the town marshal, and it would have to be a coordinated effort to increase our communication services and have methods available to coordinate with the sheriffs and the Marshall’s Office,” Hunter said. “But within our district it could be anywhere from three minutes to a half an hour to get law enforcement response depending on who is on duty and where they are at.”
Blake Mitchell, board president, expressed his concern as well.
“I do not know what the right or wrong answer is, but I do know that we as a school district have to respond somehow, because I feel that our district right now, today, is vulnerable,” Mitchell said. “I think in two years, when we get done with our (construction) project, it will be a lot safer than it is today.”
Superintendent Brian Hanson said the debate was really two conversations. “Conversation number one is our safety plan and our protocols and procedures,” Mitchell said.
“National research shows the number one safety-related precaution that you can do is have classroom doors locked during the day, period. ... The construction will address a lot of these deficiencies.”
After the board decided to vote on the issue at their next board meeting, parents expressed concerns about making decisions under emotional stress.
An overarching theme in the discussion was a desire for evidence that linked armed staff to increased safety.
One parent brought up the approach of taking a closer look at student behavior and how they may mirror past student shooters across the country.
She cited how small Mancos is and how easy it would be to pay closer attention to behavioral problems.
A parent said the best situation would be to fund a School Resource Officer on campus.
“This has been a conversation with this board for a long time, and we are going to do what we feel is in the best interest of the school,” Mitchell said. “It is not a situation that is going to be taken lightly, and there are going to be some people that are happy with the decision and some people that are unhappy with the decision, no matter what we do.”
Mitchell encouraged parents to keep coming to school board meetings and said they would always take the time to let them speak.
The board also swore in new board member Ed Whritner and voted to hire another counselor or social worker.
“Even if our numbers aren’t where they should be, I think we need to roll it (money to hire the social worker) out of reserves,” Hanson said.
They also discussed the CASB conference they recently attended a discussed the teacher shortage in Colorado.
In one class, new board member, Whritner said that the group broke into nine small groups and most all came up with the same problem in their district: teacher salaries and retention.
“The number of college students graduating last year in the spring semester in Colorado colleges and universities was around 3,000,” Mitchell said.
“There were over 5,000 teachers that retired from the state of Colorado.”
Secondary principal Adam Priestly announced to the board that a letter was sent to parents and students officially banning cell phone use during school hours, starting in January.
At this time, students may still use their phones during open lunch.
“We have had some issues lately that we do not need to have during school,” Priestly said.
“We do not want to limit communication with parents, but if a kid keeps pushing the limit in the classroom, I think they may have to see Mr. Showalter and maybe parents will have to come in and speak with us.”
If a student is caught with a cell phone in class, the teacher will confiscate the phone, to be given back at the end of the school day.
The board also discussed upcoming possible changes in Mancos’ involvement in BOCES. The new president of BOCES is school board vice president Boe Hawkins.
Business manager of the district, Chrissie Miller announced that preliminary documents from the Colorado Department of Education show the district will lose funding in the amount of $50 per student.
In addition, the board decided to have two meetings per month in light of construction that will be taking place in the next two years.
This article was reposted on Wednesday, Dec. 20 to correct school board member Tim Hunter’s comments and clarify his stance about school security.