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San Juan County stakeholders discuss school safety in wake of shootings
Speaking to a major conservative gathering outside Washington, DC, Vice President Mike Pence addressed the recent school massacre in Parkland, Florida and said the administration will make school safety "our top national priority." (Feb. 22) AP
Several dozen people attend meeting at sheriff's office
FARMINGTON — Several dozen officials from across San Juan County met Thursday night to discuss new options and methods to address school safety.
"We have to do something right now. We have to do something to protect our kids," said San Juan County Sheriff Ken Christesen, who estimated the meeting attracted 50 to 60 people.
Those in attendance at the San Juan County Sheriff's Office in Aztec included state legislators, area law enforcement, school district superintendents, San Juan County District Attorney Rick Tedrow, school board members and representatives of San Juan College.
The meeting is an effort by the Sheriff's Office to reach out to community partners to develop a countywide prevention plan due in part to a recent increase in threats made to area schools. They also were acting in response to a shooting at Aztec High School on Dec. 7 that left two students and the shooter dead.
Aztec Municipal School District Superintendent Kirk Carpenter said this was the first time he had attended a meeting that brought several dozen community stakeholders together to discuss school safety on this level.
State Sen. Steve Neville, R-Aztec, said it was gratifying to see everyone come together to brainstorm ideas and figure out how they could work together to address school safety.
One of the items discussed during the nearly two-hour meeting was the possibility of the San Juan County Sheriff's Office training school staff members and teachers who would have permission to carry a concealed weapon on school grounds.
Christesen emphasized the proposal was one of several items discussed during the meeting. He said it would require more talks with district officials to address various issues, including insurance for schools and the development of internal controls.
Some of the initial details on the proposal would require a full background check and physical examination to see if a person would fit into the program, he said. It also would require a minimum of 40 hours of training, Christesen said.
Carpenter said there were a lot of great ideas discussed during the meeting, and he promised to look at all options for ensuring the safety of students, including the possibility of school staff members carrying concealed weapons on school grounds.
The most important thing for Carpenter is to focus on the prevention of any incidents on school grounds, including investigating threats and identifying people who could pose a threat to school safety.
"We are not going to sit and talk. We're going to take action to make our schools a safer place," Carpenter said.
Other ideas that were discussed called for improving mental health services and making it a fourth-degree felony if someone is accused of making a threat against a school. The charge such perpetrators usually face, interference with the educational process, is a petty misdemeanor charge.
Neville said the role of a legislator in these discussions is to try and find additional funding for schools and to consider laws the Legislature can pass in support of school safety.
Another meeting is being planned for the group in March, Christesen said.
Joshua Kellogg covers crime, courts and social issues for The Daily Times. He can be reached at 505-564-4627 or via email at email@example.com.