Colorado

Greeley board to meet in schools for now

Brett Reese isn’t allowed to bring his gun to school.

Because he can’t, under Colorado law, Greeley school board members on Thursday approved a measure that will prevent their controversial colleague from bringing his gun to board meetings as well.

Brett Reese
Brett Reese

By a 5-2 vote, with Reese casting one of the dissenting votes, board members approved a plan to hold their meetings at various schools throughout the district for the rest of this year. Colorado law prohibits anyone, with some exceptions such as police and school district safety officers, from carrying a gun into a school.

Reese, owner of KELS 104.7 FM (Pirate Radio), said he has received death threats as recently as Wednesday after he broadcast statements critical of the Rev. Martin Luther King Jr. before Monday’s national holiday and he wants to carry a weapon into meetings for protection.

He also said he is mindful of the December incident at a Florida school board meeting in which an armed man terrorized board members.

“I see it over and over,” he said, criticizing his fellow board members as “preventing Brett Reese from defending himself.”

He also asserted his Second Amendment right to bear arms. “The arrogance of this board is manifest,” he said. “They are placing themselves above Colorado statutes and the Constitution.”

Afterward, Reese said that if he had been armed at that meeting in Panama City, Fla., he could have prevented the attack. The gunman fired several shots at board members, hitting none of them, before return fire from the district security chief stopped the assault. The gunman then committed suicide with a gunshot wound to the head.

Reese accused the board of “wasting time” on this issue. “If you think I might shoot a board member, then you have a trust issue,” he said. He said board members are telling him they are scared of him.

He termed the resolution, and two others presented by Superintendent Ranelle Lang, as unnecessary and indicative of “poor decision-making” by the board.

Quotable
“If you think I might shoot a board member, then you have a trust issue.”
– Brett Reese

Reese did agree in principle with holding meetings in schools because it would, he said, get the board out of the “ivory tower” in the district’s administration building, where meetings are normally held. But he also stated he did not favor the measure because the board did not consider the cost of providing protection for board members at the school sites.

Lang said an armed police officer will be attending board meetings at no cost to the district in “the short term.” Roger Fiedler, the district’s communications director, said an armed district safety officer has been attending board meetings since the Florida incident.

Fielder admitted Thursday’s meeting was moved from the administration building to an elementary school to prevent Reese or any other board member from bringing a gun to the meeting. There is no explicit prohibition in Colorado law against carrying a gun into a school district administration building, he said.

Lang said this measure also will allow the district time to investigate changes in Colorado law regarding bringing a gun or any other weapon into district administration buildings. She said the legal opinions on this issue are unclear. Efforts to ban guns on the University of Colorado campuses, for example, have been appealed to the state Supreme Court.

Reese was joined by board member Robert Stack in voting against the move to the schools, but Stack said his priority was safety “now.” He favored revisions in policies that would bring all school facilities under an “umbrella” of protection, he said.

“Security to me is of the utmost importance,” Stack said. “This entire topic would have come up sooner or later, but the action of one individual has pushed it to the forefront.”

He said he hoped that any revisions, either in law or policy, would affect all faculty, students and staff members of the district. He worried that students taking field trips to district buildings not covered by the gun injunction could be at risk. He said the board needed to take a stand.

The option to move board meetings to schools was the third of three options presented by Lang at the special meeting to deal with the gun issue.

One option called for the installation of metal detectors at all locations in the district as well as people to staff them. Lang estimated that annual personnel costs for staffing the metal detectors would run as high as $200,000 annually. Buying the equipment would cost as much as $10,000, she said.

Another option would have revised Board Policy KFA to prohibit firearms in any district building, not just the schools. But Lang said adopting such a policy “might be in conflict with the wording of current state law” and further research is prudent.

Learn more
Read the EdNews’ profile of Brett Reese, “Brash new board member rocks Greeley.

Lang recommended the third option, moving the board’s meeting locations, because it would allow the “district community to refocus its attention on our primary education mission” and would buy the district time to consider other options. Board member Julie Kron asked for, and received, assurances from Lang that adopting her recommendation did not rule out further action by the board.

Despite announcing her support of Lang’s recommended option, board member Julia Richard said that further action “needed to be taken at the state level.” Kron said she supported the option because she “felt strongly that we should not be committing additional resources” to the issue.

Reese said he abides by the prohibition against guns in schools and will abide by it in the future. But because of 10 to 12 death threats he has received since his radio broadcasts about King, he also said he is armed when he is not on school property.

Reese’s gun permit, though, has been temporarily withdrawn by authorities because of a request for a restraining order brought by a rival radio station owner. The rival owner said Reese left him messages threatening a “shootout” because he was allegedly pilfering advertisers away from Reese.

Reese said Thursday’s meeting seemed to be “pre-scripted” and that other board members might be seeking “publicity” from the whole issue. When asked if he felt safe with an armed official at the meeting, he said he felt he “was not as safe as if I had a gun.”

The 40-year-old ex-carpenter, who was elected to the school board in 2009, also said he expects to court controversy in the future because he is a radio station owner with opinions to express.

The board’s action coincided with an editorial in Thursday’s Greeley Tribune, which called for moving meetings to district schools until Reese left the board.

School safety

Hiring more security officers in Memphis after school shootings could have unintended consequences

PHOTO: Jahi Chikwendiu/The Washington Post/Getty Images

Tennessee’s largest district, Shelby County Schools, is slated to add more school resource officers under the proposed budget for next school year.

Superintendent Dorsey Hopson earmarked $2 million to hire 30 school resource officers in addition to the 98 already in some of its 150-plus schools. The school board is scheduled to vote on the budget Tuesday.

But an increase in law enforcement officers could have unintended consequences.

A new state law that bans local governments from refusing to cooperate with federal immigration officials could put school resource officers in an awkward position.

Tennessee Education Commissioner Candice McQueen recently reminded school personnel they are not obligated to release student information regarding immigration status. School resource officers employed by police or sheriff’s departments, however, do not answer to school districts. Shelby County Schools is still reviewing the law, but school board members have previously gone on the record emphasizing their commitment to protecting undocumented students.

“Right now we are just trying to get a better understanding of the law and the impact that it may have,” said Natalia Powers, a district spokeswoman.

Also, incidents of excessive force and racial bias toward black students have cropped up in recent years. Two white Memphis officers were fired in 2013 after hitting a black student and wrestling her to the ground because she was “yelling and cussing” on school grounds. And mothers of four elementary school students recently filed a lawsuit against a Murfreesboro officer who arrested them at school in 2016 for failing to break up a fight that occurred off-campus.

Just how common those incidents are in Memphis is unclear. In response to Chalkbeat’s query for the number and type of complaints in the last two school years, Shelby County Schools said it “does not have any documents responsive to this request.”

Currently, 38 school resource officers are sheriff’s deputies, and the rest are security officers hired by Shelby County Schools. The officers respond and work to prevent criminal activity in all high schools and middle schools, Hopson said. The 30 additional officers would augment staffing at some schools and for the first time, branch out to some elementary schools. Hopson said those decisions will be based on crime rates in surrounding neighborhoods and school incidents.

Hopson’s initial recommendation for more school resource officers was in response to the school shooting in Parkland, Florida, that killed 17 people and sparked a wave of student activism on school safety, including in Memphis.

Gov. Bill Haslam’s recent $30 million budget boost would allow school districts across Tennessee to hire more law enforcement officers or improve building security. Measures to arm some teachers with guns or outlaw certain types of guns have fallen flat.


For more on the role and history of school resource officers in Tennessee, read our five things to know.


Sheriff’s deputies and district security officers meet weekly, said Capt. Dallas Lavergne of the Shelby County Sheriff’s Office. When the Memphis Police Department pulled their officers out of school buildings following the merger of city and county school systems, the county Sheriff’s Office replaced them with deputies.

All deputy recruits go through school resource officer training, and those who are assigned to schools get additional annual training. In a 2013 review of police academies across the nation, Tennessee was cited as the only state that had specific training for officers deployed to schools.

call out

Our readers had a lot to say in 2017. Make your voice heard in 2018.

PHOTO: Chris Hill/Whitney Achievement School
Teacher Carl Schneider walks children home in 2015 as part of the after-school walking program at Whitney Achievement Elementary School in Memphis. This photograph went viral and inspired a First Person reflection from Schneider in 2017.

Last year, some of our most popular pieces came from readers who told their stories in a series that we call First Person.

For instance, Carl Schneider wrote about the 2015 viral photograph that showed him walking his students home from school in a low-income neighborhood of Memphis. His perspective on what got lost in the shuffle continues to draw thousands of readers.

First Person is also a platform to influence policy. Recent high school graduate Anisah Karim described the pressure she felt to apply to 100 colleges in the quest for millions of dollars in scholarships. Because of her piece, the school board in Memphis is reviewing the so-called “million-dollar scholar” culture at some high schools.

Do you have a story to tell or a point to make? In 2018, we want to give an even greater voice to students, parents, teachers, administrators, advocates and others who are trying to improve public education in Tennessee. We’re looking for essays of 500 to 750 words grounded in personal experience.

Whether your piece is finished or you just have an idea to discuss, drop a line to Community Editor Caroline Bauman at cbauman@chalkbeat.org.

But first, check out these top First Person pieces from Tennesseans in 2017:

My high school told me to apply to 100 colleges — and I almost lost myself in the process

“A counselor never tried to determine what the absolute best school for me would be. I wasted a lot of time, money and resources trying to figure that out. And I almost lost myself in the process.” —Anisah Karim     

Why I’m not anxious about where my kids go to school — but do worry about the segregation that surrounds us

“In fact, it will be a good thing for my boys to learn alongside children who are different from them in many ways — that is one advantage they will have that I did not, attending parochial schools in a lily-white suburb.” —Mary Jo Cramb

I covered Tennessee’s ed beat for Chalkbeat. Here’s what I learned.

“Apathy is often cited as a major problem facing education. That’s not the case in Tennessee.” —Grace Tatter

I went viral for walking my students home from school in Memphis. Here’s what got lost in the shuffle.

“When #blacklivesmatter is a controversial statement; when our black male students have a one in three chance of facing jail time; when kids in Memphis raised in the bottom fifth of the socioeconomic bracket have a 2.6 percent chance of climbing to the top fifth — our walking students home does not fix that, either.” —Carl Schneider

I think traditional public schools are the backbone of democracy. My child attends a charter school. Let’s talk.

“It was a complicated choice to make. The dialogue around school choice in Nashville, though, doesn’t often include much nuance — or many voices of parents like me.” —Aidan Hoyal

I grew up near Charlottesville and got a misleading education about Civil War history. Students deserve better.

“In my classroom discussions, the impetus for the Civil War was resigned to a debate over the balance of power between federal and state governments. Slavery was taught as a footnote to the cause of the war.” —Laura Faith Kebede