Dove Creek schools to arm administrators

Superintendent, principal to double as security officers, carry weapons

The seven-member board that oversees schools in Dolores County voted to allow the Dove Creek High School principal and district superintendent to carry firearms onto school grounds at a Wednesday night meeting in Dove Creek.

School District Re-2J includes Rico, but administrative offices and almost all the students are located in Dove Creek. Together, the sparsely populated county has only 260 students.

The board voted unanimously to let the two administrators function, in effect, as security officers provided they complete a concealed carry weapons course, receive a permit from the county sheriff's office and satisfy additional training qualifications.

The handgun course will be taught today and Sunday by Howard Miller, an instructor with Centurion Firearms Training in Dove Creek.

Superintendent Bruce Hankins wasn't sure of the logistics of further requirements but said it might involve both the Dolores County Sheriff's Office and Colorado State Patrol.

Sheriff Jerry Martin was out of the office and not available for comment Friday.

Hankins and Principal Ty Gray won't receive a pay raise for taking on the extra responsibility, but because a monetary contract is required by law, their "salaries" for the security positions are one dollar each.

"What we're trying to do is driven by budget. We don't have the funds to hire a (school resource officer)," Hankins said Friday.

Deliberations about school security in Re-2J had been ongoing well before the Dec. 15 shooting at Sandy Hook Elementary School in Newtown, Conn, Hankins added.

"We've engaged in these discussions for months," he said. "We won't live our lives in fear (of an attack), but we realize the world we live in today and need to do everything in our power to keep kids safe."

"It definitely was not a random, un-thought out decision," he added.

Late last month, a Republican proposal - Senate Bill 9 - to arm public school teachers was rejected by a 3-2 party line vote in the state Senate Judiciary Committee. But that doesn't mean the broader idea is stymied for good.

"Proponents say that the door remains open in Colorado because the law already says permit holders can carry concealed handguns at school if they're under contract as a security officer," The Denver Post reported Jan. 30. "Theoretically, they claim, districts could contract with school staff to assume that role, with intensive training, in addition to their regular duties."

The Colorado Association of School Boards took a neutral stance on SB9 because of urban-rural rifts in its membership, the Post added. Rural districts, where guns are an everyday part of life, were generally more agreeable to the idea than their Front Range counterparts.

Carolyn Tyler, director of communications for the Colorado Attorney General's office, said it would be premature to determine anything without reviewing the board's decision. She also said the AG's office would not review the decision unless it is asked to look into the matter.

The Wednesday night meeting drew a "good number" of interested staff and parents, and Hankins said he didn't hear any concerns or objections to the decision.

"People thought it was a good idea. They see the need for it. I wish we weren't having these conversations. We're educators, not law enforcement."

The two full-time SROs in Montezuma-Cortez District Re-1 are certified police officers with the Cortez Police Department.

Chief Roy Lane said he couldn't comment on the Dove Creek situation directly, but said he would be uncomfortable placing an armed person who wasn't a certified officer inside a school.

"They are full police. In the summers our SROs are working the streets," he added.

Mandi Sanchez, mother of 16-year-old Brianna, applauded the move to allow Hankins and Gray to carry a concealed firearm onto Re-2J school property, including all buildings and to sporting events.

"I think it's very good news," she said.

Sanchez believes criminals are not going to comply with laws that prohibit guns in school zones, and that responsible armed administrators could deter an assailant.

"My daughter is in the school, and this is one way to protect her," she said.

Sanchez didn't know the board had been considering this action, but wasn't surprised in light of the current fight over gun control and Second Amendment rights.

Her daughter revealed a different reaction. Brianna Sanchez, the recent winner of the first-ever Cortez Idol singing competition, said the thought of administrators carrying weapons in the school made her "scared."

Lance Clem, spokesman for the Colorado School Safety Resource Center, said there is a statute that outlines who can and cannot carry a gun on school grounds.

Statute 18-12-105.5 states that peace officers are allowed to be in possession of firearms on school grounds, though it does not address security officers.

Re-2J is doing a comprehensive security assessment next week to determine other areas where school buildings might be vulnerable.

"(Carrying a gun) is one piece of an overall security plan," Hankins said. "It's not the answer to every threat. But if somebody comes into the building making threats or shooting, I'm not going to hide behind my desk. I'd prefer to have more than a chair (as a weapon)."

Hankins said neither he nor Gray have taken formal firearms training before, but emphasized they were comfortable handling a gun.

"I've been around and owned guns my whole life. We both hunt. It's nothing that I'm scared of," he said.

The school board's decision is a first of its kind in this region.

"We have had no discussions at this point to consider allowing school district personnel to carry firearms," Re-1 Superintendent Alex Carter wrote in an email. "We are extremely fortunate in Montezuma-Cortez Re-1 to have a close relationship with the Cortez (Police Department) and, as such, have two highly trained law enforcement officers assigned to our schools."

Mancos Re-6 has no school resource officers on staff, and according to administrative assistant Theresa Titone there are no plans to follow Dove Creek's example.

"Nothing like that has come before the board yet. There hasn't been any action regarding that (topic) so far," she said.

Likewise, district secretary Laurie Arnett said Dolores Re-4a has no SROs at this time, but that they would be a topic of conversation at next week's board meeting.

michaelm@cortezjournal.com

lukeg@cortezjournal.com