Events add more urgency to school safety seminar
GLENWOOD SPRINGS, Colo. When Glenwood Springs police chief Terry Wilson last year helped pick the topic of school safety for a law enforcement training conference this weekend, he had no idea how much recent news events would give the conference added weight.Since then, a gunman took several students hostage and killed one of them at Platte Canyon High School near Bailey, Colo., in September; several girls were slain at an Amish school in Pennsylvania in October, and more than 30 were killed at Virginia Tech in April.”It’s kind of scary that we planned our curriculum around school safety issues and then it became nothing but more topical in the meantime,” Wilson said.On Thursday and continuing through today, nearly 100 people have been meeting in Glenwood Springs to talk about how law enforcement can help schools protect students and staff from those who would harm them.The event was put on by the Rocky Mountain chapter of the FBI National Academy Association. Most participants are graduates of the FBI National Academy, including Wilson and Garfield County Sheriff Lou Vallario.Some of the speakers Friday included Park County Sheriff Fred Wegener, whose department responded to the Bailey shooting; Dwayne Fuselier, who was involved as an FBI agent in the response to the 1999 Columbine High School shootings; and Ed Ray, chief of security for Denver public schools.In an interview, Ray said schools and law enforcement need to work closely to make campuses safe.Tracie Keesee, a Denver police commander, said an incident such as Virginia Tech creates a hypersensitivity about school safety that only lasts a while.Said Ray, who comes from a law enforcement background, “Educators, they scare easily and learn slowly when it comes to security.”But he understands why.”Educators are educators. They’re not security people. It’s a totally different discipline.”Wilson said that while educators are focused on nurturing and improving students, lawmen are always looking out for the worst thing that can happen in schools.Ray said he’d rather see people overreact than underreact to potential dangers in a school.”Every threat has to be looked at. Every situation has to be looked at,” he said. “Does every kid have to be charged with a crime because he made some kind of a threat? The answer is no, but don’t dare ignore it.”Wilson praised the Roaring Fork Re-1 School District and its superintendent, Judy Haptonstall, for working proactively with police to address safety concerns and bringing consistency to response protocols from school to school. “They’re being very accepting and very open in asking, what do you think?” he said.Law enforcement officials said school resource officers have come to play a vital role in preventing and responding to safety problems in schools. They build relationships with students and staff and serve as liaisons with police departments.”They’re not security guards. They’re part of the faculty, part of the culture of the schools,” Vallario said.School safety has been a prominent concern this week in local schools. Some buildings went on lockdown until an armed man who had been reported on the loose in Parachute was taken into custody. Also this week, it was revealed that two Glenwood Springs Middle School students were expelled after creating what they described as “hit lists.” Police and school officials determined the students were just venting frustrations and there was no imminent danger.Vallario said Tanny McGinnis, his community relations deputy, visited the middle school to talk about issues surrounding the incident, “and what leads kids to feel like they need to be writing a list.”In an age when some threats and concerns are being voiced via text messages, e-mails and the Internet, officials say providing a safe school environment still starts with good old-fashioned parenting at home.Said Keesee, “You cannot let the parents say ‘we’re going to leave this all up to you.’ A lot of this is behavioral-based.”Vallario also said it’s also important to keep things in perspective. Kids are still safer in school than out on the streets, he said.”It’s still a safe environment,” he said.Contact Dennis Webb: firstname.lastname@example.orgPost Independent, Glenwood Springs Colorado CO
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