Editor’s note: With numerous forums scheduled for the six school board candidates, the Columbine Courier will focus each story on one single issue that arises in each debate. Visit www.columbinecourier.com and click on “Politics” under the “News” tab for candidate profiles and for coverage of the candidate forums.
Jeffco school board candidates shared their views on whether arming teachers with firearms would make classrooms and schools safer at a candidate forum on Sept. 24.
“When it comes to teachers carrying firearms, now there’s a loaded question — no pun intended,” said John Newkirk, who is running in District 2.
Six candidates are vying for three open seats on the Jeffco school board in the Nov. 5 election. The candidates are Tonya Aultman-Bettridge and Julie Williams in District 1; John Newkirk and Jeff Lamontagne in District 2; and Ken Witt and Gordon “Spud” Van de Water in District 5.
More than 40 people attended the Sept. 24 debate, which was held at Evergreen Fire/Rescue Station 1 and was hosted by the Jeffco League of Women Voters. Audience members were given the opportunity to fire questions at the candidates, and the issue of armed teachers came up early in the debate.
“It’s something that I think would be very difficult to put in place, but I understand the concern,” Newkirk said. “I don’t see it happening without a lot of training.”
He said he supports having police and resource officers in schools and thinks the program should be expanded.
“It’s a different world that we’re living in now than when I went to high school,” Newkirk said. “Columbine was something we never would dream would happen.”
“I understand the impulse to want to keep our kids safe, (but) I don’t think (arming teachers) is the way to do it,” Lamontagne said. “I see too many issues with teachers with guns in the classroom.”
He said that a police presence in a school is an effective tool in making schools safer.
“Just the knowledge that a resource officer is at school is usually enough to be a deterrent,” he said.
“There’s not an easy answer because it’s a complex problem,” Witt said. “We need to think it through and realize that it may not be the same answer in every situation.”
Witt said he could picture circumstances in urban areas that would require flexibility on the issue.
“I think it varies somewhat, but before any teacher would have a handgun or access to a weapon, there must be training (with law enforcement) to make certain that it was well-thought-out and the right plan,” he said.
Gordon Van de Water
“I am opposed to teachers with guns,” Van de Water said. “People who have firearms and don’t use them often have a (high) accident rate.”
Van de Water said he likes what the district is doing to make it difficult for people who shouldn’t be in schools to enter district premises.
“Given the times, we have to be very sensitive to and very concerned about safety in our schools,” he said.
“If a teacher chooses to go through the appropriate training that the district would set up with our police department, I think she should have the right to protect our kids,” Williams said. “(Besides parents), no one loves our kids more than a teacher.
“I believe that all options should be on the table and that we shouldn’t rule out anything in regard to our children’s safety,” Williams said.
“Our school resource officers in Jefferson County are wonderful individuals,” Aultman-Bettridge said. “I believe an investment in (resource officers) is a preferable alternative to arming teachers in the classroom.”
Aultman-Bettridge said her main concerns stem from other districts in the country that have decided to arm teachers and have dealt with insurance issues.
“I’m not sure if our resources would be better spent investing in our school resource officer program,” she said.
The next two Jeffco school board candidate forums are at 7 p.m. Oct. 2 at Wheat Ridge City Hall, 7500 W. 29th Ave., and from 7 to 9 p.m. Oct. 8 at Summit Ridge Middle School, 11809 W. Coal Mine Ave. in Littleton.