EDITORIAL: School Kids, with Guns, Part One

What started out as a normal morning before a day of classes and lessons quickly changed when a gunman opened fire at Marshall County High School in Benton, Ky., just before 8 a.m. on Jan. 23…

— from ‘Life’s tragic lessons,’ front page article in the February 1, 2018 Pagosa Springs SUN

I got the distinct impression, looking around the room and listening to the questions from the volunteers, that the information, about the BEST grant, had come as something of a surprise to the members of the Planning Assistance Team.

We were gathered in the Pagosa Springs Middle School library on the evening of January 22, to discuss the future of facilities in the Archuleta School District (ASD). Making an exception for the two media reporters in the room, everyone was focused on understanding — and giving their honest reaction to — a proposal that had been laid on the table.

January 22, 2018 meeting of the Archuleta School District’s Planning Assistance Team, in the Middle School Library.

The proposal was time sensitive. The ASD volunteers had been studying and discussing various scenarios since April of 2017, and the discussions had finally become focused around a potential $50 million investment in new and renovated school facilities.

During those months of study and discussion, we’d been given to understand that a certain amount of money might be available through a BEST grant. The Colorado Department of Education (CDE) had developed the BEST program back in 2009 to help fund school facilities projects, and ASD had recently won a BEST grant to repair the roof on the 1924 building that currently houses the district’s 5th and 6th grade classrooms.

At a meeting of the ‘Planning Assistance Team’ a week earlier, also in the Middle School Library, Superintendent Linda Reed had announced that a BEST grant — if we could win another one — would pay up to 39 percent of the cost for certain facilities improvements.

Certain improvements.

We were not told what types of improvements, exactly. We were told, however, that the BEST grant application had to be submitted by the end of February.

Consulting architect Stuart Coppedge, left, and District Superintendent Linda Reed discuss input from previous ‘community engagement’ work sessions, during the January 22, 2018 Planning Assistance Team meeting.

But more information came out a few days later at the January 22 meeting, when consulting architect Stuart Coppedge explained that the BEST program money is apparently rather limited in its uses. He told the group that, most likely, BEST would be willing to fund only two aspects of a district’s facilities Master Plan.

BEST might help fund improvements to HVAC (Heating, Air Conditioning and Ventilation) systems.

And BEST might fund “school safety” improvements.

It appeared to me, as an outside observer, that most of the $50 million proposal sitting on the table that evening consisted of new school buildings and parking lots and playgrounds and gymnasiums and incidental renovations that probably would not qualify as ‘HVAC systems’ or ‘school safety improvements.’

Which is not to suggest that ventilation unimportant and should be overlooked — even though none of our current school buildings have air conditioning systems, and have been functioning without said air conditioning systems since — well, since 1924, in at least one case.

And most certainly, the people of Archuleta County want our schools to be as safe as possible. Most certainly, the voters in our community would be hesitant to vote ‘No’ on a tax increase that would provide secure entrances for our four public school buildings — none of which, in 2018, have ‘state-of-the-art’ security features intended to prevent a sociopathic individual from entering the school and killing school children and teachers with one or more semi-automatic weapons. In 2018, you or I — or anyone else — is probably able to enter any one of our public schools carrying a duffle bag full of guns, if we wanted.

All our school buildings were constructed prior to 1998, during a more innocent period of American history.
One question we will want to consider — since the proposal is on the table — is whether a $50 million tax increase can actually make our schools safer.

Or is that just wishful thinking?

Daily Post columnist DC Duncan wrote, earlier this week, about former Pagosa Springs student Hannah Dysinger, who was one of the teens injured during a school shooting at Marshall County High School in Kentucky. Two students were killed during that shocking event, including Ms. Dysinger’s best friend.

The weekly Pagosa Springs SUN also reported on the Marshall County High School shooting in this week’s issue — in an article written by SUN editor Terri House — and included a photograph showing young Ms. Dysinger holding a quilt gifted to her by the “Pagosa Prayers and Squares ladies.”

Detail from the front page of the Pagosa Springs SUN, February 1, 2018.

The shooter at Marshall County High School was a fellow student using a handgun, according to news reports.

This was the third lethal school shooting incident in the state of Kentucky since a 1993 shooting incident at East Carter High School, where a teacher and a custodian were killed. Kentucky has since passes a law mandating that all schools have emergency operating plans that are reviewed annually by school officials. Schools must have four emergency responder drills (for various situations ranging from weather events to lockdowns) during the first 30 days of school, and again in the second semester. Some Kentucky schools conduct full-scale drills for an active shooter situation.

Reportedly, the students at Marshall County High School had been recently trained in responding to an active shooter, prior to the January 23 incident.

Marshall County High School says on its website that, since January 23, all students have been required to have their bags, backpacks and purses checked before entering. Students arriving by car, riding buses and needing wheelchair access have separate designated entrances. Those arriving later are required to check in at the office.

During the discussions at the ASD Planning Assistance Team work sessions, we heard reports that school security is first and foremost among the concerns expressed at the ‘community engagement’ sessions conducted recently by the district, as part of the facilities planning process.

I’ve also heard questions about school security raised at recent board meetings of the Pagosa Peak Open School, the newly-approved public charter school that operates inside the Parelli Building in the Aspen Village subdivision.

Can our school children ever be safe, here in America?

Let’s consider how that might happen.

Read Part Two…


Bill Hudson

Bill Hudson founded the Pagosa Daily Post in 2004 in hopes of making a decent living writing about local politics. The hope remains.