For First Time Since STEM School Shooting, Douglas County School Board Meets

<p>Michael Sakas/CPR News</p>
<p>Claudia English, a 14-year-old freshman at Highlands Ranch High School, speaks in front of the Douglas County School Board meeting Tuesday, May 14.</p>
Photo: Douglas County School Board Meeting Post-STEM | Claudia English
Claudia English, a 14-year-old freshman at Highlands Ranch High School, speaks in front of the Douglas County School Board meeting Tuesday, May 14.

The Douglas County school board is meeting Tuesday night for the first time since the deadly shooting at STEM School Highlands Ranch. The session was originally scheduled for last week, but was pushed back after the attack.

About 60 people squeezed into the meeting room, with more waiting in an overflow area. The attack is top of mind, despite nothing listed on the regular agenda explicitly addressing the shooting. The board did invite public comment on it and to share feedback on school safety and security.

Claudia English, a 14-year-old freshman at Highlands Ranch High School, came to the meeting to advocate for more mental health awareness among teachers.

“I understand that, what is Douglas County School District going to do about gun laws? There’s not much they could do,” English said before the meeting began. “But what we can do is educate the teachers about what to do to a student that has a mental health issue. Whether that’s a counselor or an art teacher or a gym teacher.”

She’d like to see funds from a bond measure and mill levy override that Douglas County residents passed last fall go toward educating teachers.

Going back to school has been hard. English was in the school restroom on Wednesday, the day after the STEM Shooting, when a student dropped their bag. The loud noise triggered a panic attack, one of many “mental breakdowns” she’s had.

“I’ve got bad anxiety and this just made it worse,” English said.

Claudia English, a freshman at Highlands Ranch High School, speaks to the Douglas County School Board. “I’m in front of you today because I want to ensure that the Douglas County School District students feel safe and supported in their schools.”

During her speech in front of the board, English said she has never been informed of the mental health resources available to her at school, including who her counselor is.

"I want to see me and my peers get the chance to graduate safely and contribute to society," she said. "The chance Kendrick never got."

The meeting comes just after the Board of Douglas County Commissioners approved a one-time disbursement of $10 million in additional funding for increased school safety, after one student was killed and eight others were injured in the shooting at STEM.

Board of Education Director David Ray opened the meeting with a statement about the attack. Other board members cried as he spoke.

“We want nothing more than for every student to feel and be safe at school. We want every parent to be confident that when they send their children to school in the morning, that their children will return to them in the evening," Ray said.

Superintendent Thomas Tucker praised the people who spoke at the meeting, and said he hopes the community will continue to avoid "finger-pointing" and "political infighting."

"Not only at STEM but throughout this district, we can see folks throughout this district have been impacted. With this tragedy and with this darkness, this is really an opportunity for us to be committed to our 68,000 students," Tucker said.

He spent most of his time talking about how two ballot initiatives approved in November have helped the district increase funding for counselors and school security.

He said the funding made it possible to buy the radios that the district used last week to spread the word about the shooting at STEM School Highlands Ranch. Tucker said those radios helped school officials respond quickly within minutes.

That ballot measures also allowed the district to hire more counselors and school resource officers.

"We've hired 75 of 80 new counselors that will start at the beginning of this year. And one of the important things that these counselors will do: They will get to know our kids and they will build those relationships," Tucker said. "When you look at over the last 20 years since Columbine, and you look at these perpetrators of violence, these purveyors of violence, they didn't have a relationship with an adult in our building. And so, we're trying to mitigate that."

Tucker added that charter schools could access the money to also hire counselors and improve security.

Two students who attended the school are in custody, and are scheduled to appear in court Wednesday morning for formal charges.