Post-STEM School Shooting, Douglas County Commissioners To Commit $10M For Security And Mental Health

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<p>Alex Scoville/CPR News</p>
<p>Audience members listen to a public speaker at a Monday, May 13, Douglas County Commissioners meeting to discuss a budget proposal to fund school safety.</p>
Photo: Douglas County Commissioners | Audience 1
Audience members listen to a public speaker at a Monday, May 13, Douglas County Commissioners meeting to discuss a budget proposal to fund school safety.

The Board of Douglas County Commissioners is meeting to consider $10 million in additional funding for increased safety at public schools, according to a meeting agenda. The money is to “help eliminate cost barriers” associated with public school safety.

Douglas County Sheriff Tony Spurlock appreciated the offer to “put your money where your heart is,” as one commissioner described it.

The meeting comes a week after the shooting at STEM School Highlands Ranch, where one student was killed and eight others injured. Two students who attended the school are in custody and expected in court for formal charges Wednesday morning.

Commissioner Abe Laydon, who has met with school teachers and families, said they were “uninterested” in apologies. Instead, the question on their minds was, “‘what are you going to do to protect us and our kids,’” he said.

Photo: Douglas County Commissioners | Lora Thomas Roger Partridge Abe Laydon 2
Douglas County Commissioners Lora Thomas, Roger Partridge and Abe Laydon at a Monday, May 13, meeting to discuss a budget proposal to fund school safety.

The school had a private security officer on site during the shooting. From 2013 to 2018, the school provided a school resources officer from the Douglas County Sheriff, but that position was terminated after the school and sheriff’s office disagreed over the duties the officer would perform, according to statements from both the sheriff's office and the STEM School.

“The unfortunate fact is that schools with and without SROs have experienced violence,” the school said in a statement.

The board will also discuss additional mental health services for schools. Last week, more than a hundred STEM School students walked out of a vigil at Highlands Ranch High School in protest, saying it had turned too political. As they gathered in the school’s foyer, they spontaneously began chanting, “mental health, mental health.”

While some STEM parents say their children’s learning and emotional health needs were met at the school, others claimed in a document presented to the school board that the supports available at STEM School were inadequate and that the school lacked other accommodations for students with learning and emotional challenges as required under federal law.

Anastasia Hadwiger has children in the district. She sees serious security gaps, and doesn’t believe the $10 million is enough.

“This is an ongoing issue. This is not just going to cover a year.”

“We need to get something in place to stop the bleeding. This is a bandaid.”

In an undated fundraising letter to parents, STEM School executive director Penny Eucker said the school provides two social workers trained in this support, four counselors, and one psychologist. CPR could not confirm how many mental health officials currently are employed by the school.

Douglas County Superintended Thomas Tucker told the commissioners that improvements are already on the way, thanks to funding voters approved in 2018. Money from a mill levy and bond measure will fund 80 new counselor positions to start in the 2019-20 school year.

It’ll be the first time all the district schools will have a counselor.

The proposed $10 million will come from reserves that benefit from the county's conservative tax spending, as well as property values that have risen unexpectedly.