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Charter school granted waiver allowing staff to carry concealed firearms

Teacher Firearms Training.jpg
Posted at 11:40 PM, Jul 09, 2021
and last updated 2021-07-10 01:40:15-04

COLORADO SPRINGS — Colorado is no stranger to tragedies in school, from the Columbine High School shooting in 1999, to the Platte Canyon high school shooting in 2006, and most recently the STEM School shooting in Highlands Ranch in 2019.

As a result, school officials are continuing to try and find the best way to keep students safe in a variety of circumstances.

The parents of the student murdered in the STEM School shooting visited Colorado Springs this week. Kendrick Castillo was killed as he rushed to confront one of the shooters in that attack.

His father John spoke at the District 49 board of education meeting Thursday to voice support for a school safety plan proposed by the Liberty Tree Academy, a K-12 charter school.

The school requested a security waiver that would give its administrators the ability to supervise armed staff carrying concealed firearms on campus.

"I believe that in order to rise from the ashes like the phoenix and do something different for school safety, we need to look at some things that we've never done before and this is one of them," Castillo said in an interview with News 5 prior to the board meeting.

Michelle Morin, President of the Liberty Tree Academy Charter Board explained that the school's founders want their campus to be a "hard target" meaning would-be attackers are deterred by the knowledge that someone in the building could return fire.

She explained that most mass shootings involve an attacker looking for an easy path for the destruction they plan to carry out.

"As we know, the State of Colorado particularly, there are a lot of school shootings and a lot of needless deaths of students, and that's not going to be our school."

Charter schools operate independently from their districts and are responsible for their own security. Leaders at Liberty Tree Academy have worked with administrators and the board of education on the security waiver request. The document would also give the school the ability to contract with a private security company or local law enforcement.

Pedro Almeida, Chief Operating Officer for D-49, raised safety concerns about having staff carry concealed firearms and urged the board to delay their vote.

"My personal experience after 27 years of military service is that when you have a lot of folks who have a weapon on them daily in a footprint, you take the risk of an inadvertent mistake happening," Almeida told the board. "I've seen it time and time again."

Morin notes that any staff member who volunteers to be designated as a school security officer would first have to complete the specialized Faculty/Administrator Safety Training and Emergency Response (FASTER) program.

"It's highly specialized, it's very painful, people who go through it, it's very realistic," Morin said.

The El Paso County Sheriff's Office has an armed School Resource Officer stationed at Falcon High School, which is located a little more than a mile away from Liberty Tree Academy.

That's almost the exact distance away that Castillo said Douglas County Deputies were from the STEM School on the day that Kendrick died.

"In his situation, it was under a minute when the whole shooting was over," Castillo said. "The substation for the police station was less than a mile away. They had an excellent response of two minutes, but it wasn't enough."

The school board granted the waiver request by a vote of 4-to-1.