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‘What if?’

By Shane Benjamin Herald staff writer

Many students say they feel safe at area schools, largely because Durango is a tightly knit community where nothing bad ever happens.

The same thing has been said at other schools where terrible acts of violence have occurred, including Colorado’s Columbine High School in 1999 and Sandy Hook Elementary late last year.

The paradox is not lost on students or administrators.

“I just don’t think it could happen here, but I guess that’s what everybody thinks,” said Tatiana Hovland, a junior at Durango High School.

Sadie Geauthreaux said the odds of anything happening at Durango High School are “pretty slim.” She said: “I know everywhere must say that, but Durango in general is very sheltered and a very safe place, and at DHS, they do take a lot of measures.”

Cody Martinez, a senior at the high school, said he also feels safe at school, but acknowledges recent shootings have affected his consciousness.

“It makes you think about if that could actually happen here when it’s happening in places all over the country,” Martinez said.

Several parents expressed concerns about school safety in December after the Sandy Hook Elementary shooting in Newtown, Conn., said Daniel Snowberger, superintendent with Durango School District 9-R.

They noticed how easy it is to walk into certain schools without being greeted, he said. Parents have called the school district and asked, “What if I weren’t a parent? What if I was someone who had ill intentions?” he said.

Sunnyside Elementary, south of Durango along U.S. Highway 550, had a door-mounted video intercom installed during winter break after parents expressed concern that anybody could walk in. It is a small, rural school on the side of a busy highway.

At a meeting last month at Riverview Elementary, parents were given a rundown on what the school is doing to keep kids safe.

“As a parent, it helps you feel better knowing that they care about your kid as much as you do,” said April Bates, who attended the meeting.

Parents expressed a desire to keep students safe by improving drop-off and pick-up procedures. At the same time, they want to keep it a community-oriented school, in which parents can walk in to pick up or drop off a child.

One parent said she was able to pick up another child – with the other parent’s permission – but neither the child nor school officials was aware of the arrangement. The child went with the parent without question, she said.

Another parent said he appreciates being able to walk with his child to the first class of the day, as do other parents. But it would be easy for strangers to enter the school, he said.

Some parents volunteered to undergo background checks and wear orange vests to help monitor hallways throughout the day. Principal Doug Geygan said the idea has been suggested before and has potential.

Several principals interviewed for this story said local schools were designed more as welcoming centers than secure fortresses. Still, they feel good about the level of safety being provided.

Dave Tanaka, principal at Needham Elementary, said he believes schools are the safest places in the community.

“The only times I’ve had concerns so far this year is when we had wild animals running around,” he said. “We had a bear at the start of the year.”

shane@durangoherald.com

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