A solution or dangerous? The debate behind arming teachers

FASTER Colorado says they have trained over 250 school staff
A solution, or dangerous? The debate behind arming teachers
Posted at 9:04 AM, Dec 20, 2021
and last updated 2021-12-20 11:04:16-05

DENVER — Kendrick Castillo is described by his father as a bright kid, who was looking forward to studying electrical engineering in college. His father said he loved the outdoors and spending time with his friends. He was involved with the robotics team in high school and dreamed of working in aerospace one day.

Kendrick never had the chance to graduate.

“He was murdered in the 2019 STEM school shooting in Highlands Ranch on May 7 of 2019," said John Castillo, Kendrick's father.

Castillo said every single day is hard without his son. He and his wife still go to the cemetery to visit Kendrick on a daily basis.

“Time has gone by, but the pain and the loss are still the same," said Castillo.

A gun is what took Kendrick's life. However, his father says a gun can be a solution when it comes to school shootings.

“We talk about gun safety, and it turns into gun control, it becomes political. We can't play politics with our kids. If we had proper security in that school, and people ready, our son may be with us here today. That's how serious this is," said Castillo.

He said he recently went through a course hosted by FASTER Colorado, which is a program that prepares teachers and school staff for an active shooter situation.

"We've trained over 250 school staff, and that represents schools in 37 Colorado districts. We know there are more than that because there are some schools in the far corners of the state that get their training elsewhere," said Laura Carno, the executive director of FASTER Colorado.

Carno said school boards can authorize specific individuals to carry concealed guns on campus. Anyone going through the FASTER Colorado course must already have their concealed carry permit, and Carno said some schools have additional psychological background checks in the vetting process of the volunteers. She said after every school shooting, they see an increase in call volume regarding their program.

"The faster we stop the killer, and the faster we stop the bleeding, the fewer people die when disaster starts," said Carno, explaining the premise of the program.

One school that has gone through FASTER Colorado's training is Ascent Classical Academy in Lone Tree.

"We're going to do everything we can do to make sure that our kids come home safe to their families at night," said Derec Shuler, the executive director of Ascent Classical Academies.

Shuler said the school allows staff to carry concealed guns on campus but did not disclose how many personnel participates. He said it is a mixture of staff, teachers, and administrators who volunteered to be part of the program.

"We don't have school resource officers in our building. Just, as charter schools, those aren’t things that we can afford. And we really see this as an important gap measure to cover that first one to two minutes until the police get here," explained Shuler.

Shuler said the school had to change it's insurance when they made the decision to allow armed school staff on campus. Their new insurance company requires them to hang signs on the front doors, alerting visitors to their decision regarding armed staff.

Warning signs regarding armed staff
Signs at the front of Ascent Classical Academy disclose their decision to allow armed school staff on campus.

“One of the things they talk about, especially in the first round of FASTER training is, statistically, if you're in an event and you're required to confront an active killer with a firearm, it's more likely to be a student. So, we absolutely have those conversations in working to prepare our staff, that in the event you need to employ a firearm, this is who your target is likely to be. And that's something that some teachers are uncomfortable with, but that's the reality of school shooters," said Shuler.

Not all educators believe arming staff is a solution for protecting students against active shooters. For instance, Abbey Winter has been a teacher in Aurora for a decade and says there are effective ways to intervene before violence shows up at a school.

“As a teacher, every day I show up and I bring evidence and research-based strategies and tactics to my teaching, to my instructional strategies. There is little evidence that arming teachers is effective in keeping our kids safe," said Winter.

Winter is also a member of Moms Demand Action, a group fighting for public safety measures to prevent gun violence.

“Federal, state and local school boards can promote secure storage practices. Keeping those firearms inaccessible in the homes is absolutely one of the most effective ways we can prevent school violence. Here in Colorado, last year, our state legislators passed a secure storage bill and that's been in effect since July of this year. So, keeping those firearms from children at home is one of the very first steps," said Winter. "Another step is a strong threat assessment program that empowers schools and school personnel to intervene with students who may be showing signs of harming themselves or others.”

Winter said teachers spend their days developing relationships with their students, and she could never look at any child and make a decision about life or death. She also said introducing guns into a school setting increases the risk of them falling into the wrong hands.

Shuler said that is a concern taken very seriously at Ascent Classical Academy.

"If we find that happens, then somebody will be immediately removed from the team, and is actually subject to termination from being an employee," said Shuler.

Winter said educators must focus on how any increase in community violence can impact students. She said it is not a separate issue from the violence that may occur on school grounds. In addition, she said concealed weapons could affect a child's mental health.

“We want to be particularly cognizant of the risks to students of color, who are already disproportionately disciplined at a higher rate than their white peers, and the fear that it could potentially cause knowing their teacher or teachers are armed," said Winter. "School should be safe. And instead of asking teachers and students to stand up to gunmen, we want school boards, state, and federal lawmakers to make sure they're standing up to the gun lobby. We want them to put in the legislation policies, practices, and strategies that we know will keep our kids safe and save lives."

While the debate surrounding arming teachers and school staff continues, others are turning to technology to protect students. LifeSpot is a new mobile app, available on both Google and Apple, that aims to solve six major challenges experienced during active shooter events.

“We can fix this. We can make this better," said Brett Titus, the CEO of LifeSpot. "If you perceive a threat, you open the app, you press and swipe a button. And within six seconds, it goes to all the staff, law enforcement, 911 dispatch, it can go to fire, EMS. It can go to anybody in less than six seconds."

Titus is an Air Force veteran who also worked with the Denver Police Department for nearly three decades. He said during his career, he has been involved in thousands of tactical operations, and several hundred of those led to critical incidents.

“A lot of our local schools are still using techniques and thought processes that have not evolved. And that's what we need to do. We need to learn from the past and then evolve," said Titus.

The main goal of the app is to speed up response time. In a school setting, LifeSpot allows the users, like teachers, to text directly with law enforcement. It also shows the users the general area of the threat and gives them an estimated arrival time of first responders. Plus, users can mark someone as injured within the app, giving first responders the chance to begin treating them.

“If we have one mission to do, that's protect our kids. And I think every parent would agree with that without fail," he said.