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Teachers press school safety in wake of Denver shooting

Mar 24, 2023, 2:21 PM | Updated: 7:18 pm

DENVER (AP) — Colorado teachers flooded into the state Capitol Friday to press for better protections for students and school staff after a 17-year-old Denver student shot two administrators, fled to the mountains and killed himself.

Roughly 1,500 teachers and their supporters called for improved school security, more mental health support and tighter gun control measures, adding to pressure on lawmakers a day after students and parents converged at the Capitol to make similar demands.

School shootings are becoming increasingly frequent in the U.S., and teachers at the rally voiced the fears they feel during safety lockdowns that are now regular occurrences.

They also raised questions about the circumstances surrounding Wednesday’s shooting at East High School, which came as the boy was being patted down for weapons, a daily requirement because of his behavioral issues including a pending firearm charge, according to school officials.

Some East High School teachers at Friday’s rally said they did not know any students at the school were being regularly patted down until the shooting.

“I want to go into a building every day where I don’t need to ask if my kids are getting a pat down because I know nobody is bringing guns into the school,” said English teacher Josh Garfinkel.

Schools were canceled Friday in Denver in response to the shooting. Officials have said they’ll put armed officers into city high schools through the remainder of the school year, reversing a policy enacted just a few years ago in response to protests over racial injustice following the killing of George Floyd by police.

The teachers Friday gathered on the steps in front of the Colorado capitol for speeches and chants, then circled the building as some played brass instruments and drums before filing inside.

Elementary school teacher Raegan Haines said she’s had three lockdowns at her school this year. She said lawmakers need to make it harder to access guns.

“You think, what am I going to do with these kids? How can I keep these kids quiet? Who am I going to put my body in front and why do I have to make that choice?”

She added that when the teachers entered the Capitol, “we had to walk through metal detectors and everything is plated in gold. We don’t get that same sense of security at schools.”

Colorado Democrats hold majorities in both state chambers and have made gun control a priority.

Pending bills would expand who can petition to temporarily remove a firearm from someone who poses a danger, raise the minimum age to possess a firearm from 18 to 21, require three-day waiting periods after buying guns, and ban semi-automatic firearms.

The semi-automatics ban is unlikely to find traction. The fate of the others could fall to Colorado Gov. Jared Polis. He’s supported expanding red flag laws but not specifically endorsed raising the age to possess guns or the three-day waiting period.

Teachers said their students also face more mental health problems and not enough social workers or psychologists to help.

At East High School, about a half-dozen psychologists and social workers at East High must take care of 2,500 students, said Kristy Skarphol, a math teacher at the school. This year they’ve also been reaching out to teachers who might be struggling amid all the lockdowns.

“We’re just spread way too thin for what we need,” Skarphol said.

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Associated Press reporter Matthew Brown contributed from Billings, Montana.

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Bedayn is a corps member for the Associated Press/Report for America Statehouse News Initiative. Report for America is a nonprofit national service program that places journalists in local newsrooms to report on undercovered issues.

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