The Boulder County Sheriff’s Office is renewing a request to store long-range rifles in safes inside two St. Vrain Valley schools, Lyons Middle/Senior and Niwot High.

The St. Vrain Valley school board heard the request at a Wednesday work session. Board members, along with Superintendent Don Haddad, generally were supportive of the idea. The proposal now is likely to be added to an upcoming agenda for a regular board meeting.

School board President Karen Ragland said the proposal “sounds like common sense,” especially given the increase in school violence.

“Ultimately, I’m not an expert and you all are,” she said.

The sheriff’s office previously floated the idea in 2018, citing greater emergency response times at those two schools compared to campuses within city limits. After hosting two community meetings, the district turned down the proposal.

At the time, those in the community in favor cited increased school safety, while those against worried about militarizing schools, adding to student anxiety and increasing the potential for collateral damage to bystanders while responding to a school shooting.

In asking again, Boulder County Sgt. Bill Crist pointed to recent school shootings, including May’s shooting at an elementary school in Uvalde, Texas, that killed nineteen children and two adults.

Given the length of most high school and middle school halls, he said, a rifle would be a much more effective weapon than a handgun. Crist, who leads the school resource officer program, also noted last year’s Boulder King Soopers shooting, in which 10 people were killed, lasted just 67 seconds.

Now, school resource officers store their long-range rifles in their vehicles, which are parked in school lots during the day.

“I would hate for there to be a tragedy in a school and knowing we could have prevented it,” Crist said. “It’s just another piece of the safety of staff and students.”

While proposing to pilot safe storage of rifles at Lyons and Niwot, Crist said, he ultimately recommends it for all schools. He listed several other Colorado districts that have agreements for officers to store rifles in their schools, including Arapahoe County, Jefferson County and Adams County.

“After the Texas incident, people are seeing it a little differently now,” he said.

School board members asked questions about accuracy and distance for rifles versus handguns, as well as wanting to know in which scenarios an officer would want to retrieve a gun from a locked safe. Crist responded that an outside intruder trying to enter a secure campus would be the most likely scenario. A student with a weapon already inside the school likely wouldn’t allow for enough time to retrieve a rifle.

“If the threat is from outside, we could make that tactical decision to grab that tool,” he said. “It’s going to have to come down to our training, our gut instinct.”

Haddad said he found it compelling that law enforcement approached the district with concerns about their ability to respond to a school shooting, given the geographic distance of those two schools. Another concern shared was the increased likelihood that shooters would wear body armor, making handguns less effective.

“Our main priority is to protect our children,” Haddad said.

He noted that storing a long-range rifle inside schools would only be an additional layer of protection, on top of other measures that have included hiring more counselors and other mental health professionals, adding school resource officers and making school entrances more secure.

The district, through agreements with its law enforcement agencies, has 22 school resource officers. The goal is two at each high school and one at each middle school, with the district covering part of the officer’s salaries. There are three Boulder County officers covering schools in unincorporated areas of the county.

“The rifle is just another mitigating step we can take to ensure student safety,” said Richard Peebles, St. Vrain’s executive director of safety and security.

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Amy Bounds
2022-08-18 03:12:39
Boulder Daily Camera
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