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Gun self-defense in 4th grade? No, says Colorado education board

Author: Marianne Goodland - June 13, 2018 - Updated: June 13, 2018

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State Board of Education member Debora Scheffel at a campaign event in 2016. (Photo by Nic Garcia/Chalkbeat)

The Colorado Board of Education voted June 13 along party lines to changes in standards for teaching health and physical education, but omitted a proposal to teach fourth graders about the benefits of guns for self-defense.

The proposal was first floated last month by Republican Debora Scheffel, who represents the 4th Congressional District on the board. The idea picked up the support of the other two Republicans on the board: Steve Durham of Colorado Springs and Joyce Rankin of Carbondale.

But some of the board’s Democrats took the opposite view, appearing chagrined at the idea of offering 9- and 10-year-olds what they viewed as a pro-gun curriculum.

The board’s proposed curriculum would “explain the potential dangers of having weapons at home, in school and in the community.” Scheffel’s amendment would have added “and benefits for self-defense.” She explained last month that she was referring to guns in the home as a means of self-defense.

Board Chair and Democrat Angelika Schroeder of Boulder appeared incredulous during last month’s discussion.

“You’re talking about teaching 10-year-olds about self-defense,” Schroeder told Scheffel. “I don’t want my grandson coming to me and asking if I have weapons.” For children, she said, “the education should be around ‘don’t touch the thing.’”

Scheffel later told Colorado Politics she was pulling the amendment because it was “misunderstood.” But that didn’t stop Rankin from offering it once again on Wednesday, with Durham’s support.

The June 13 meeting drew a full house, with parents and gun-control activists representing Ceasefire Colorado and Moms Demand Action taking the podium to denounce the proposal.

Tim Krug, who is running against Scheffel for the board’s 4th CD seat in November, also spoke against the proposal. He said he is involved with organizations, such as the Cub Scouts, that teach fourth-graders about the dangers of unsupervised firearms, and that’s where the lesson stops.

“It’s up to my wife and I to decide when our children are mature enough to have a discussion about the positive or negative aspects of gun use in our home,” not state government, he said.

The board was also presented with a MoveOn.org petition, signed by more than 1,100 people (mostly from Colorado), that said the amendment did not have “the best interests of students at heart.” It called the proposal a “cynical political ploy to promote the pro-gun agenda that has led to the United States having the highest number of firearm-related injuries and deaths in the world.”

Rachel Barnes, a teacher at Denver Public Schools with two elementary school-aged children, also addressed the amendment, which included an “inquiry question” about how the use of guns and other weapons could be positive.

The lesson the standard pertained to is on conflict management, Barnes pointed out. As soon as a weapon is brought into a conflict, it becomes a violent situation; someone will get injured or terrified for their lives or go get a bigger weapon and the conflict doesn’t get resolved, she said.

Adding gun self-defense to the lesson, she said, is “like a unit on first safety and then asking about the benefits of playing with matches in a drought-stricken forest.”

When the time came to act, Rankin ran into opposition from the committee that drafted the standards. The health committee from the Department of Education made it clear that it did not support the Scheffel amendment.

Rankin then tried to modify it. She suggested the curriculum “explain the potential dangers and benefits of having weapons in the home, school and community.” But she had to abandon the idea after it was pointed out that last-minute amendment changes are not allowed.

“The way it is (originally) worded is that it puts fear into students” and the classroom, Rankin said. “We need to make children feel safe. Talking about the dangers only brings more fear into the classroom.”

She then withdrew the amendment.

Durham criticized the public comments, calling them “overblown.”

“This chronic fear of the unknown, if parents understand proper use and instruct children in proper use, the evils are not likely to occur,” he said.

The board’s 4-3 vote reflected not only the Republicans’ issue with the gun debate, but concerns about marijuana, lack of proof that the health standards produce the desired outcomes and issues around the use of cell phones in the classroom.

Marianne Goodland

Marianne Goodland

Marianne Goodland is the chief legislative reporter for Colorado Politics. She's covered the Colorado General Assembly for 20 years, starting off in 1998 with the Silver & Gold Record, the editorially-independent newspaper at CU that was shuttered in 2009. She also writes for six rural newspapers in northeastern Colorado. Marianne specializes in rural issues, agriculture, water and, during election season, campaign finance. In her free time (ha!) she lives in Lakewood with her husband, Jeff; a cantankerous Shih-Tzu named Sophie; and Gunther the cat. She is also an award-winning professional harpist.