Teachers urge school safety after Denver shooting
DENVER (AP) — Colorado teachers poured into the U.S. Capitol on Friday to push for better protections for students and school staff after a 17-year-old student from Denver shot two drivers, fled into the mountains and killed himself.
About 1,500 teachers and their supporters called for improved school security, greater support for mental health care and stricter gun control measures, adding further pressure to lawmakers a day after students and parents gathered at the Capitol to make similar demands.
School shootings are becoming more common in the US, and teachers at the rally expressed the fear they feel during security closures that are now a regular occurrence.
They also asked questions about the circumstances surrounding Wednesday’s shooting at East High Schoolthat came when the boy was beaten for guns, a daily necessity due to his behavioral problems, including a gun charge, according to school officials.
Some East High School teachers said at Friday’s rally that they were unaware until the shooting that students at the school were regularly beaten.
“I want to go into a building every day where I don’t have to ask my kids to get a pat on the back because I know no one is bringing guns into the school,” said English teacher Josh Garfinkel.
Schools in Denver closed Friday in response to the shooting. Officials have said they will place armed officers in city high schools for the rest of the school year, reversing a policy introduced just a few years ago in response to protests over racial injustice following the killing of George Floyd by the police.
The teachers gathered on the steps in front of the Colorado Capitol on Friday for speeches and chants, then circled the building as some played brass and drums before entering.
Elementary school teacher Raegan Haines said she has had three lockdowns at her school this year. She said lawmakers should make it harder to get guns.
“You think, what am I going to do with these kids? How can I keep these kids quiet? Who am I going to represent my body to 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 with gold. We don’t get that sense of security in schools.”
Colorado Democrats hold majorities in both state chambers and have made gun control a priority.
Current bills would expand who can request to temporarily remove a firearm from someone who poses a threat, raise the minimum age for owning a firearm from 18 to 21, require a three-day waiting period after purchasing guns, and semi- ban automatic firearms.
The ban on semi-automatic machines is unlikely to gain traction. The fate of the others could fall into the hands of Colorado Governor Jared Polis. He supported expanding the red flag laws, but did not specifically support raising the gun-owning age or the three-day waiting period.
Teachers said their students also have more psychological problems and not enough social workers or psychologists to help.
At East High School, about half a dozen psychologists and social workers at East High have to care for 2,500 students, said Kristy Skarphol, a math teacher at the school. This year they have also reached out to teachers who may be struggling amid all the lockdowns.
“We’re just spread way too thin for what we need,” Skarphol said.
Associated Press reporter Matthew Brown contributed from Billings, Montana.
Bedayn serves on the Corps for the Associated Press/Report for America Statehouse News Initiative. Report for America is a non-profit national service program that places journalists on local newsrooms to report on undercover issues.