OURAY – The Ouray Public School rolled out the red carpet for Gov. Hickenlooper and two state legislators on Thursday, May 23, for a bill signing ceremony celebrating new legislation which seeks to make Colorado’s schools safer by enhancing their ability to bring on board specially trained police officers called school resource officers or SROs.
The last time a sitting governor visited the Ouray School was 30 years ago. Hickenlooper received a hero’s welcome from giggling young students who crowded wide-eyed around him in the hallway when he arrived on Thursday afternoon.
Swapping fist bumps with a few fourth graders, he imparted his favorite words of wisdom (“Work hard, be nice, and never give up,”) before striding into the school’s auditorium to sign the bill into law.
SB13-138, sponsored by Republican Steve King in the Senate and in the House by Reps. Mike McLachlan (D-Durango) and Leroy Garcia (D-Pueblo), passed both chambers unanimously. A funded mandate, it includes a school resource officer on the state school safety commission, and it also directs the school safety commission to look for federal funding to bring in to Colorado to help fund school resource officers in schools across the state.
In his opening remarks, Hickenlooper praised the Ouray Public School as an “All-American, All-Coloradoan” school. The historic school has just under 200 students, from pre-kindergarten through 12th grade, and is located in the heart of a residential neighborhood just a block or two away from the town’s Main Street business district,
“It’s a good place to talk about issues like school safety,” Hickenlooper said. “The more a school is embedded in a community and has a relationship with the parents and the local business community, the better the kids do. This (bill) is another way to enhance that and keep building those bridges. In the end, for our kids to learn and to grow, they’ve got to feel safe. This (bill) is going to make sure that our kids feel safe.”
Sen. King and Rep. McLachlan accompanied the governor to Ouray.
McLachlan, a Durango Democrat who just this week emerged unscathed from a recall effort by some of his District 59 constituents who were unhappy with his support of Colorado’s recently enacted gun control legislation, touted the bipartisan support for the school safety bill. “If there is one thing we can agree upon, it is the education of our children, and their safety is the most important of all,” he said.
King (R-Grand Junction) had a 30-year career in law enforcement prior to getting into politics, and actually worked as an SRO for four years in Mesa County. This is the third bill he has successfully run over his seven years in the legislature that deals with school safety.
King stressed that SB-138 is not about placing armed security guards in every school – something that the National Rifle Association famously proposed as the best solution for keeping schools safe, after the Sandy Hook school shooting last December.
Rather, school resource officers are certified law enforcement officers that can be employed by either a local law enforcement agency or by the school, and provide a natural bridge between the two entities. When school is in session, they are in the building, interacting with students, faculty and administration. “It isn’t just about gun violence,” King emphasized.
SROs receive special training that prepares them to function on many levels within a school. They are at once safety and security experts, law enforcers, problem solvers, mediators and liaisons to outside community resources such as Social Services and Juvenile Diversion. In addition to all this, they are educators in their own right, teaching drug resistance education, bullying prevention, conflict resolution and more, in a classroom setting.
Perhaps most importantly, an SRO can function as the lynchpin for school’s efforts to adopt and implement safe school plans, execute vulnerability assessments, and serve as a first responder in critical life-threatening events, from an active shooter incident to a natural disaster such as the tornado that recently flattened two elementary schools in Oklahoma.
Even in a small school such as Ouray’s, King said, “You would be surprised how busy a resource officer would be.”
Currently, however, SROs are only found in larger Colorado communities which have the wherewithal to go after the federal grants to pay for them.
Kathy Morris, a Durango-based safe schools coordinator for nine public school districts in southwestern Colorado, started working with Sen. King in 2010 to develop safe school legislation. She hopes SB-138 will help level the playing field by funding the new position on the state school safety commission to help smaller schools go after federal grants.
“Out of 179 school districts, 91 of them are rural,” she pointed out. “They tend to be ‘softer targets’ for criminal activity.” Ultimately, she said, she’d like to see the new legislation enable every school building in the entire state to have its own resource officer.
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