Photo by Eric Mathison, 2006
Then-School Resource Officer Steve Beets talks to reporters after a 2006 incident in which a student brought a gun to Evergreen High School. Beets confiscated the weapon.

UPDATE: Highline Schools deny superintendent made recommendation to disarm security guards

UPDATE for Jan. 8
The Highline School District has denied reports in other news media that Superintendent Susan Enfield has recommended security officers be disarmed.

Here is the district's press release:

"Contrary to recent news reports, Highline Public Schools has not announced a change to its school security model. Staff is currently drafting a proposal to update the district’s security model to reflect current best practices. The proposal is to be presented to the school board and the public later this month or early next month.

"Last spring, the district initiated an assessment of its security model, a study of security models in comparable districts, and a review of current local and national standards for school security. The purpose of this evaluation was to assess the need to update the district’s security model to ensure optimum student safety.

"The process was initiated prior to Dr. Susan Enfield’s hiring as superintendent. At this time, Dr. Enfield has directed staff to draft recommendations based on the district security assessment. When the proposal is complete, Dr. Enfield will present it to the public and the school board for discussion. Details of the plan are still being drafted; consequently, no details regarding the role or functions of security officers have been announced to staff or the public."

Previous coverage
Highline Public Schools security officers will attend the regular Highline school board meeting Wednesday night, Jan. 9 and plan to press the issue of retaining the right to carry handguns in the schools.

The public meeting is at the district's headquarters, 15675 Ambaum Blvd. S.W. It begins at 6 p.m.

The issue has become even more sensitive since the school shootings at a Connecticut elementary last month.

The National Rifle Association (NRA) has suggested teachers and staff should be allowed to possess handguns in schools as a deterrent to mass shootings.
On the other hand, gun control advocates are pressing for more regulations.

The district's re-evaluation of its security department and procedures was undertaken before the Connecticut shooting.

Board members held a work-study session on the issue on Dec. 12, just two days before the shootings. District security officers and a Des Moines police officer, who serves as a School Resource Officer at Mt. Rainier High, also spoke at the regular meeting following the study session.

The board is not scheduled to take any action Wednesday on changes to security procedures. The board will elect new officers at the meeting.

KOMO-TV News is also planning a story on the Highline controversy.

Original coverage on Dec. 14
Security officers say they need to keep handguns as Highline Schools reviews security policy

Just two days before today’s shooting at a Connecticut elementary school, Highline School District security guards and school resource police officers (SROs) told board members it is important that security officers carry firearms.

Des Moines Police Officer Kevin Penney, Mt. Rainier High SRO, testified at a Dec. 12 board meeting that law enforcement agencies changed their philosophy after the Columbine school shootings about responding to active shooting incidents.

Instead of waiting for a SWAT team to assemble, law enforcement officials believe the shooter should be immediately confronted, Penny told board members.

“The fastest response is the quickest way to quell violence,” Penney declared.

He said security guards inside the schools may be the first responder to a violent scene. He said if security guards are not armed, they could become targets of the violence.

Highline has 13 school security officers and four campus security officers. In addition, there are commissioned police officers, known as school resource officers, at Highline High, Mt. Rainier High and the Tyee High campus/Chinook Middle. They are partially funded by the cities where the schools are located. The Evergreen High campus in unincorporated North Highline does not have a SRO because of funding issues.

Highline security officer Dennis Decoteau said security officers receive extensive firearms training. He noted because they focus exclusively on the schools, they build up relationships with the students.

He concluded that he hoped the security officers would be allowed to keep their uniforms, handguns and other equipment.

Superintendent Susan Enfield replied that the district is reviewing its security department and she emphasized the district will do whatever is in the best interests of the students.

Board president Angelica Alvarez said that although security officers do not directly suspend students, there is a correlation between increased suspensions and security officers in schools.

One of the district’s major goals, highlighted by Enfield in her State of the Schools presentation, is eliminating out-of-school suspensions by 2015.

Prior to the regular meeting, board members held a work session to study the security department review.

The district formed a steering committee aimed at developing a system that will maintain the highest level of safety and security while supporting a positive educational environment for the students.

The committee surveyed security measures in the Highline, Federal Way, Kent and Tacoma school districts.

Highline has a use of force continuum that begins with verbal presence, followed by physical intervention, pepper spray, taser and deadly force.

Federal Way security personnel have no firearms or tasers and the staff is not required to intervene during incidents.

Kent seeks to verbally de-escalate the incident, before moving on to physical intervention, mechanical restraints and pepper spray.
Tacoma has armed security officers who carry guns, handcuffs and batons. Campus officers carry handcuffs, batons and radios.

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