Charter school obtained exemption allowing staff to carry concealed firearms
COLORADO SPRINGS – Colorado is no stranger to school tragedies, from the Columbine High School shooting in 1999 to the Platte Canyon High School shooting in 2006, and most recently the STEM school shooting at Highlands Ranch in 2019.
As a result, school officials continue to try to find the best way to keep students safe under various 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 face one of the shooters in this attack.
Her father John spoke at the District 49 Education Council meeting on Thursday to express support for the school safety plan proposed by Liberty Tree Academy, a K-12 charter school.
The school has requested a security waiver that would give its administrators the ability to supervise armed staff carrying concealed firearms on campus.
“I believe 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 have never done before and this is one of them,” said Castillo in an interview with News 5 ahead of the board meeting.
Michelle Morin, chair of the Liberty Tree Academy Charter Board, explained that the school’s founders want their campus to be a “tough target,” meaning potential attackers are deterred from knowing that someone in the building might retaliate.
She explained that most mass shootings involve an attacker looking for an easy path for the destruction they plan to perform.
“As we know, in the state of Colorado in particular, there are a lot of school shootings and a lot of unnecessary student deaths, and this is not going to be our school.”
Charter schools operate independently of their districts and are responsible for their own safety. Liberty Tree Academy officials worked with the Trustees and the Board of Education on the security waiver request. The document would also give the school the option of contracting with a private security company or local law enforcement.
Pedro Almeida, chief operating officer of D-49, raised concerns about the safety of personnel carrying concealed firearms and urged the board to delay its vote.
“My personal experience after 27 years of military service is that when you have a lot of people who have a gun on them daily in an imprint, you run the risk of a mistake happening,” Almeida told the board. “I have seen it time and time again.”
Morin notes that any staff member who volunteers to be designated as a school safety officer must first complete the specialized program. Safety training for teachers / administrators and emergency response program (FASTER).
“It’s very specialized, it’s very painful, people who go through that, it’s very realistic,” said Morin.
The El Paso County Sheriff’s Office has an armed school resources officer stationed at Falcon High School, which is located just over a mile from Liberty Tree Academy.
That’s almost the exact distance Castillo said Douglas County MPs were from STEM school on the day Kendrick died.
“In his situation, it was less than a minute when the whole shoot was done,” Castillo said. “The police station substation was less than a mile away. They had an excellent two minute response, but it was not enough.”
The school board granted the waiver request with a 4-1 vote.