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Officers added, safety procedures reinforced at Colorado Springs-area schools

February 26, 2018 Updated: February 27, 2018 at 7:22 am
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Mesa Ridge High School (Image via Google Maps)

New security measures being instituted at some local schools were in the works before the Feb. 14 mass shooting at a Parkland, Fla., high school.

El Paso County commissioners are to approve a contract Tuesday for a new school resource officer in Falcon School District 49 and renew the contract for an officer in Widefield School District 3.

The Falcon officer will start work in the fall, serving Falcon Middle School and Bennett Ranch Elementary, which is to open in the fall, said spokesman David Nancarrow.

"Safety is critical and a top priority for students and staff and visitors to our campuses," Nancarrow said. "It's an ongoing discussion. We're always looking at what is the best way we can provide safety."

The new senior deputy assigned as a school resource deputy is paid $96,920. The school district will pay $72,690 for the nine months that school is in session, the proposal says.

In Widefield, Deputy Amanda Torres, who's in her second year with the district, is having her contract renewed, said D-3 spokeswoman Samantha Briggs.

Torres is one of three D-3 school resource officers, who are trained as county sheriff's deputies. Two work in the high schools and one in the junior highs.

"We also have our district safety and security team, which travels around the district and assists at all schools," Briggs said.

As at some other schools, Widefield High had a threat soon after the Florida shooting.

Someone in D-3 re-shared a Snapchat message from a neighboring district that said something might happen at the high school, Briggs said.

Law enforcement officers determined the message was not credible.

But Monday, police arrested a Widefield High student accused of making a credible threat toward the school and three staff members.

The unidentified juvenile was booked into Spring Creek Youth Services Center on suspicion of inciting destruction of life or property, a felony, and a misdemeanor count of interfering with staff, faculty or students at a school, the sheriff's office reported.

In Colorado Springs School District 11, more city police officers will be hired to serve as school resource officers this fall, using money that will start trickling in next month from a November voter-approved property tax increase. They will be assigned to the middle schools, said district spokeswoman Devra Ashby.

The $42 million mill levy override also will fund additional school psychologists and counselors and nurses, to address students' mental health, among other issues.

Less than a week after 17 people were slain at the Parkland, Fla., school, D-11 notified staff that the doors to its central administration office will be locked at all times.

A doorbell, similar to those at D-11 elementary and middle schools, has been installed, and a receptionist will buzz in staff and visitors once they're identified.

"That's something we've been looking at doing for a long time," Ashby said. "Our staff went to several security forums, and they all said you need to have a secure front entryway."

Several districts emailed staff and parents immediately after the Florida shooting, reinforcing what they already do to keep people safe.

Academy School District 20's security director sent a "gentle reminder" to employees about security practices, said spokeswoman Allison Cortez.

"It was along the lines of: Keep doing the right things and adhering to the policies we already have in place and not getting lax about it," she said.

Walt Cooper, superintendent of Cheyenne Mountain School District 12, told parents the day after the shootings: "Our schools are one of the safest places our children can be."

He said "the best safety measures are awareness and communication," encouraging parents to talk with their children about being an "upstander," not a "bystander," and to make anonymous tips through Safe2Tell.

Nicholas Gledich, superintendent of D-11, emailed families information on crisis plans and mandatory monthly safety drills.

D-11 also has an agreement with the sheriff's office, which has plainclothes deputies try to enter schools in order to identify security gaps, Gledich said.

Because of the 1999 shooting that killed 13 people at Columbine High School near Littleton, Colorado schools generally have good security, administrators say.

"I think we got a little head start because of what happened at Columbine because the whole country was looking at us much the way they are at Florida now," Ashby said. "We set a precedent on security measures."

Many area schools keep doors locked and require visitors to show identification. Some check government-issued identification with the National Sex Offender Registry for further clearance.

Most require visitors to sign in and wear a name tag while in the school. Cameras also are prevalent.

In D-11, a crisis response team of counselors and security investigators assesses all threats to determine whether help is needed from police, AspenPointe behavioral health services or Spring Creek Youth Services Center, a juvenile detention facility.

As for the recent rash of threats, Ashby said, kids who are frustrated or angry sometimes say something out of order.

"Because there's this hypervigilance, they're automatically called into the office, and we'll do threat assessments as needed," she said.

D-11 has done a few since the Florida shooting, she said.

"Mainly, it's not been a threat to the school necessarily, but a student threatening themselves or another classmate," Ashby said.

Over the past 13 days, several local incidents prompted responses.

Harrison High School in Harrison School District 2 postponed a pep rally and increased security after threats of violence on social media.

Air Academy High School in Academy D-20 increased security after receiving two tips from a Safe2Tell hotline to "shoot up" and "blow up" the school. The threats were deemed not credible.

"The Safe2Tell system is phenomenal," Cortez said. "There are so many reports people don't hear about because we're able to intervene immediately and discern the level of credibility."

Woodland Park High in Woodland Park School District RE-2 stepped up security this week after graffiti on a wall threatened action against the school.

Two Peyton Junior/Senior High School students were arrested last week for allegedly making verbal threats against another student, and a 17-year-old student was arrested for allegedly making threats toward his school, the School of Excellence, a program of the Pikes Peak Board of Cooperative Educational Services.

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