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Gun class prepares Colorado Springs teacher to protect students from active shooter

Author: Debbie Kelley, The Gazette - June 25, 2018 - Updated: June 25, 2018

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Interest is growing in arming teachers after recent school shootings. The training that’s offered to law enforcement, similar to this annual school emergency drill at Fountain-Ft. Carson High School on June 6, is now being offered to educators. (Photo by Jerilee Bennett, The Gazette)

Physics teacher John MacFarlane doesn’t work for a school district that allows teachers to be armed.

If it did, he’d volunteer.

“The training we have, ultimately a piece of paper taped to our doors, lockdowns and shelter-in-place drills, doesn’t talk about failure points or ways to be safer, and I feel like we can do better,” he said. “If an active shooter gets in my classroom, we’re easy targets. It’s terrifying.”

MacFarlane, who teaches at Rampart High in Academy School District 20, will attend an advanced course for educators Tuesday through Thursday at a law enforcement training center in Commerce City.

He’s one of 24 school employees from around the state signed up for the course, said Laura Carno, executive director of FASTER Colorado, which stands for Faculty/Administrator Safety Training and Emergency Response.

None of the 22 participants in a session held earlier this month were from the Pikes Peak region.

Carno, co-founder of Coloradans for Civil Liberties, started the program last year in partnership with Independence Institute, a Denver-based libertarian think tank, in response to the national debate about school shootings.

“There’s more interest than ever in the idea of armed school staff,” Carno said. “A couple of school shootings have happened this year, including one in Maryland that a school resource officer stopped before it turned into a double-digit tragedy.”

Colorado legislators have rejected bills that would have allowed schools to let teachers and other staff carry concealed handguns on campuses.

Under state law, the only people who can legally possess firearms on school campuses are designated security guards and law enforcement officers.

Some public school districts around the state have trained volunteer teachers and other employees to be armed security guards. Hanover School District 28 is the only district in the Pikes Peak region to have taken that step, its Board of Education approving it in December 2016 on a hotly debated 3-2 vote. As in with other districts, who is armed is kept confidential.

Many districts have security guards who are not teachers, janitors or bus drivers, for example. Local districts also have sworn police officers or sheriff’s deputies who work in schools.

At MacFarlane’s school, for example, there are at least three armed security guards and one police officer.

MacFarlane, who’s had a concealed carry permit for five years, thinks more armed adults are needed on campuses.

“I’d like to see the small number of teachers who are willing to be empowered to defend themselves to do so,” he said. “I have felt very helpless in the wake of some of these school shootings. I’d like to more effectively safeguard my students.”

Proponents of stricter gun laws say they’d rather have law enforcement or professional security guards be armed on school grounds and not teachers and other civilians.

The $1,000 course, which has scholarships available, teaches the same techniques that law enforcement learn in their training academy, Carno said, and includes ways to stop shooters, a simulator, force-on-force scenarios, mindset tactics and instructions on administering advanced medical treatment in the case of a shooting.

It’s for people who already have a concealed handgun permit and are designated or want to be designated by their school district as security officers and able to carry guns on school campuses.

“The idea of getting armed teachers in our school buildings is a complex issue and has become so politicized, so polarized,” MacFarlane said. “It’s been made out to be about guns and the NRA, but this is about protecting our children, which we have a legal obligation to do.”

Academy D-20’s board is not likely to take up the issue any time soon, if at all.

The board “is not scheduled to discuss the topic of arming teachers,” said board President Tracey Johnson.

“We are fortunate to have schools equipped with (highly) trained and armed district security officers, Colorado Springs Police Department school resource officers, robust security camera systems and secure entrances with strict check-in policy,” she said.

Those, combined with participation in mock emergency exercises and adoption of the Standard Protocol System, “help us ensure all staff and students are well-educated and trained on how to properly respond during times of crisis,” Johnson said.

MacFarlane, who also is a tactical handgun instructor, said he understands the hesitancy of school districts.

“This is about protecting students, not advocating for guns,” he said. “Sometimes there’s such a mythology on all sides that we need to come together and look at real solutions.”

More information on training is available at www.FasterColorado.com.

Debbie Kelley, The Gazette

Debbie Kelley, The Gazette