Boulder County Sheriff‘s Office to talk about storing AR-15 rifles inside Niwot, Lyons high schools

If you go

What: Meeting on rifle storage in schools.

When: 6 p.m. Tuesday at Lyons Middle/Senior; 6 p.m. Thursday at Niwot High School.

Where: Lyons Middle/Senior, 100 McConnell Drive; Sunset Middle School, 1300 S. Sunset St., Longmont.

Cost: Free.

More info:

Parents and law enforcement officials hope meetings this week with St. Vrain Valley School District regarding a Boulder County Sheriff‘s Office proposal to store long-range rifles in firearm safes inside two high schools steer clear of political debate surrounding gun rights.

Questions from parents about the monitoring of such safes and how effectively they might expedite a deputy‘s response to a shooting at either Lyons Middle/Senior or Niwot high schools loom ahead of public discussions with St. Vrain Superintendent Don Haddad.

Citing greater emergency response times to those two schools compared to campuses within city limits, the allow installation of safes that could be unlocked only by a deputy‘s fingerprint to keep police-issued AR-15 rifles inside both schools.

Robert Sullenberger, division chief for the sheriff‘s office, said it takes about 15 minutes for law enforcement to get to Lyons Middle/Senior and about 10 minutes to arrive at Niwot High School.

Students, parents and residents seeking more information about the sheriff‘s office proposal are asked to attend meetings with Sullenberger and Haddad. The first will be at 6 p.m. today at Lyons Middle/Senior, 100 McConnell Drive, and the second will be at 6 p.m. Thursday at Sunset Middle School, 1300 S. Sunset St. in Longmont.

Attendees of each meeting can write their opinions on the requested storage of AR-15s on notecards for Haddad to review, St. Vrain spokeswoman Kerri McDermid said.

Sullenberger also will be available to field questions from residents.

Some parents oppose the request to move school resource officers‘ long-range rifles from their vehicles — where the weapons are now kept while the vehicles are parked in school lots during the day — to safes in their campus offices.

But Sullenberger stated the move would provide a safer method for a deputy to neutralize a school shooter. He said he has heard public support for the idea.

Varying proximity

He admits, however, that a deputy might not always be closer to a safe‘s proposed location than his or her vehicle at the start of a potential shooting on campus.

“Each incident is going to be based on its own merits. We could have the deputy right in his office when (a shooting) happens. There may be times when he‘s on the other side of the school and (the rifle in the safe) may not be immediately available,” Sullenberger said. “In each case, the deputy is going to have make his own judgement on whether to engage the threat now, or to take a minute to retrieve the weapon.”

Donna Bitterman, a former St. Vrain elementary teacher now working in the Thompson School District whose stepson will be a junior at Niwot in the fall, debates whether transferring firearms from deputy vehicles to inside schools would truly streamline an emergency response.

“If we have this gun in the gun safe, and it‘s a biometric safe and it‘s coded to one person and that person is not in the office when the threat comes up, then what good is that weapon?,” she said.

Avoiding political debate

A goal for Sullenberger is to ensure the conversations do not shift to perceptions of how the St. Vrain school board‘s ultimate decision on the sheriff‘s office proposal will resonate in partisan circles.

“This is not a political statement. Law enforcement have had these weapons for years. Our school resource officers are armed. This has nothing to do with the Second Amendment. It‘s all about keeping our kids safe,” Sullenberger said. “They can voice their opinions and I will hear them respectfully. I think it is the right thing to do for our children.”

Bitterman is hopeful political leanings will remain hidden.

“I do worry that it‘s not going to be a productive conversation, because there will be people who are very, ‘Guns save lives,‘ and people who are saying, ‘We should collect all the guns and destroy them,‘” she said.

Scheduling concerns

The scheduling of the public meetings has been questioned by some parents.

Galen Scheidenhelm, a parent of a Niwot Elementary pupil, is among a group he says is critical of the timing of the meetings since the opening weeks of summer break are being used to travel by some families wanting to attend.

“This is the kind of thing that needs to be done during the school year when we have maximum involvement,” he said. “I‘ll go to the meeting with an open mind. I just want to make sure the entire community is aware of this. It seems like a drastic proposal.”

But McDermid said officials felt waiting until the school year ended would allow more people to participate in the discussion.

“Scheduling in May is just really, really challenging,” she said. “We wanted to make sure that people didn‘t have to choose between attending a graduation party or athletic event and attending this meeting. There is no perfect time for these types of things.”

She added students, parents and residents can always submit feedback directly to via email at haddad_don.org or the Board of Education by visiting the .

If district officials feel they have not heard enough voices after this week‘s meetings to gain an accurate sample of the community‘s desires, McDermid said additional events could be scheduled before the school board votes on the proposal.

The board has not set a date on which to decide the proposal‘s fate.