Highline security officer Bret Draven listens to comments at the Jan. 9 Highline School Board meeting. On his hip, are his handgun, radio and pepper spray.
Security officers, teachers, react to possibility Highline Schools security officers will be disarmed
The timing couldn't have been worse.
Two days before a gunman killed 20 students and six adults at a Connecticut elementary school, the Highline School Board held a work/study session to review a new security plan that could include disarming school security officers.
At the study session and the following regular meeting, security officers say a few board members gave the impression that they discounted the danger that security officers face in Highline schools. Board president Angelica Alvarez implied there is a connection between armed security guards and the number of student suspensions and expulsions.
The officers’ union, Teamsters Local 763, has filed an unfair labor practice claim against the district stemming from a subsequent meeting with assistant superintendent Susan Smith Leland. The union said she threatened security officers over their testimony before the school board.
District spokesperson Catherine Carbone Rogers said Leland’s intent was to request respectful behavior. Rogers noted the district doesn’t challenge the right of employees to present their opinions to the school board.
The teacher’s union, the Highline Education Association, has sided with the security officers. In a letter, HEA president Stacie Hawkins wrote, “disarming our security officers would seem to be a step backward for the safety and security of Highline teachers and students.”
Earlier in the letter, Hawkins wrote, “We can only speculate how many lives may have been saved on that awful day at Sandy Hook Elementary (in Connecticut) had an armed officer arrived on the scene in a timely manner.”
Media outside the Highline area picked up the story and, according to Superintendent Susan Enfield, inflamed already strong feelings by using misinformation.
At the Jan. 9 regular board meeting Enfield emphasized that the staff is working on a set of recommendations covering the entire security system, not just weapons. She added no proposals, including disarming the officers, have been made.
Enfield reported the recommendations will be made in about a week and a half. She said the board and district will seek public input before any decisions are made.
The superintendent also emphasized that the district will not disarm School Resource Officers (SROs), commissioned police officers who are assigned to schools.
“We couldn’t do it even if we wanted to,” Enfield added.
SROs work at Highline High, Mt. Rainier High and the Tyee High/Chinook Middle campus. They are partially funded by the cities where the schools are located.
The district employs security services and campus security officers.
The security review began last year before Enfield became superintendent. The intent was to develop a system that will maintain security for students and staff while supporting a positive educational environment for students.
But the focus at the Jan. 13 meeting was on opposition to the disarming of officers.
Some of the most dramatic comments came from Mt. Rainier campus security officer Maybry Klein near the end of the meeting.
Klein said she puts her life in jeopardy every weekday because she loves and cares for the students.
“I would lay my life down for anybody in the district. But don’t take my tools away, I’m a first responder,” Klein declared.
Security officer Dennis Decoteau said in the seven days in which school has been in session since winter break, Highline security officers have confiscated four weapons in schools while two elementary schools have been locked down,
According to security officers, they confiscate an average of 36 guns and knives from Highline students each year
Jason Powell, Teamsters Local 763 business agent told board members, “Right now across the country school districts are scrambling to address student and staff safety, not Highline Public Schools. Why not? Because we’ve had the security model for over 20 years which may very well become the national model for school security.”
Patrick Lamb, a teacher at SeaTac’s Global Connections High, said he has noticed how quickly violence can flare up at schools.
He said outside his classroom door, an officer had to pull a gun on a student and then taser him. Lamb also said a student was robbed at gunpoint in the Tyee campus parking lot.
Teachers union president Hawkins urged board members to “be as transparent as possible” in the security review.
“In absence of information, people make things up. It’s an emotional issue,” Hawkins said.
In her letter, Hawkins wrote teachers agree that the district can do more to respond to despondent or violent students.
“However, the HEA does not believe that disarming our security officers would increase the likelihood that these student needs will be met,” she wrote.