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STEM School Highlands Ranch didn’t have school resource deputy because of disagreement with sheriff’s office

The school and Douglas County Sheriff’s Office clashed at the end of last school year over the duties of its school resource deputy. Ultimately, a contract wasn’t renewed for the 2018-19 term.

Douglas County Sheriff Tony Spurlock talks about the shooting at STEM School in Highlands Ranch on Tuesday, May 7, 2019. (Jesse Paul, The Colorado Sun)
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No school resource officer was on hand to patrol the hallways of the STEM School Highlands Ranch when Tuesday’s deadly shooting occurred because of a dispute last year between school officials and the Douglas County Sheriff’s Office.

Sheriff Tony Spurlock released details of the clash late Friday afternoon, including documents related to it. In a letter written in July to Penelope Eucker, the school’s executive director, Spurlock said he believed the school was overly fixated on using the officer for traffic and parking control.

“It appears we do not share a common understanding of the role our school resource officers play in protecting our community’s youth and protecting our schools,” Spurlock wrote.

He added that the school had never provided a computer, telephone or office to the officer he sent under a contract with the school.

Questions about the STEM School’s lack of a school resource officer arose after Tuesday’s shooting, in which one student — Kendrick Castillo — was killed and eight others were wounded. Castillo died trying to stop the attack.

The school has noted that it replaced the resource officer with a private security service. A guard from the company is now being investigated due to accounts that he mistakenly fired at a responding sheriff’s deputy and may have wounded a student, according to The Associated Press. The guard is credited with stopping one of the two shooters accused of carrying out the attack.

MORE: Read Douglas County Sheriff Tony Spurlock’s statement on why there was no resource officer at STEM School Highlands Ranch and documents relating to the decision.

In his letter to Eucker, Spurlock told her that if she still needed traffic control, she should hire an off-duty sheriff’s deputy. The school did so and supplemented that off-duty deputy by hiring a private security guard, from the firm BOSS High Level Protection.

A spokesman for the STEM School said in a written statement that those replacement hires actually gave the campus “a significant increase in protection for our staff and students.”

“The unfortunate fact is that schools with and without (school resource officers) have experienced violence,” STEM School spokesman Gil Rudawsky said Friday evening. “With regard to the tragedy on May 7, 2019, we credit both the actions of our private security guard, the team of DCSO law enforcement officials who were on scene within two minutes, and the heroic students and staff members at STEM for minimizing the number of fatalities and casualties.”

Rudawsky added: “Our No. 1 priority has been, is, and will remain the safety of our students and staff.”

According to a contract released by the sheriff’s office, a school resource officer would have been tasked with providing education and counseling to faculty, staff and students on law enforcement matters; acting as a liaison between law enforcement and the school; coordinating matters of mutual policing concerns; and investigating public safety issues.

The cost of having a resource officer at STEM School was about $27,000 for the 2017-18 term, according to the contract. The school said it had a resource officer from 2013 until 2018.

The school asked for a $6,731 refund from the sheriff’s office after the school resource officer for the 2017-18 term became ill toward the end of the school year and was placed on leave. The sheriff’s office agreed to reimburse the money, but said it had strived to provide services despite the resource officer going on leave. Spurlock decided to not renew the contract for the 2018-19 school year.

A combined SWAT team waits outside the middle school entrance at STEM School Highlands Ranch after a shooting that wounded at least eight students. The shooting required the services of law enforcement across the Denver metro area, as well as the services of 79 fire department units, approximately 148 fire and medical personnel and 3 medical helicopters. (John Leyba, Special to The Colorado Sun)

Two students, 16-year-old Alec McKinney and 18-year-old Devon Erickson, are accused of committing the shooting. The pair were scheduled to be formally charged on Friday, but that court hearing was delayed until Wednesday.

The Douglas County School District says security staffing was left up to STEM School, per the contract between the two. The district does, however, provide guidance on emergency drills.

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