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Superintendent's News

Posted: January 27, 2023

Keeping Our Schools Safe and Gun Free

In his weekly message, Superintendent Elder discusses the disturbing trend of students being caught with guns at school.

At last week’s Board of Education meeting, nearly a dozen people – most of them teachers at West Mesa High – voiced fears about their safety and the safety of their students after guns were found in their school in recent months.

They called on me and the board to do more to ensure their safety, and some warned that it’s only a matter of time before another tragedy unfolds. I share those fears.

Ask any superintendent in the state, or in the country for that matter, and they’ll likely tell you that the thing that keeps them up at night is the fear of a shooter at one of their schools. It’s the nightmare scenario that, while still statistically rare, is happening more frequently.

I, too, worry about the number of guns we are seeing in our schools. Just this month at West Mesa High, we confiscated two guns from a student. One of the firearms had been modified to make it a fully automatic weapon. That happened a month after a gun went off in a shop class at the school. And all that is on the heels of a 16-year-old student being shot and killed near West Mesa’s football field during a fight with another student over a gun.

I fully understand why faculty, staff and students are afraid, and I’m sorry for the trauma they’re experiencing. Counselors are available for students who need help processing that trauma, and our employee assistance program is here to assist staff.

This problem isn’t just playing out at West Mesa. Across the district this school year alone, we’ve seen 11 guns at nine schools. This is unacceptable. It shouldn’t be happening at West Mesa, or at any other school.

There is no simple solution here. The reality is that students are getting their hands on guns, and they’re bringing them to school. The reality is that this very problem is playing out at schools across the country and we’re all struggling to get our arms around it. That doesn’t mean we’re powerless.

We can begin to tackle this problem, but only if we work together and are honest about what makes sense, what is feasible and what each one of us can do.

And the first step is for adults to be responsible with any firearms they own. That means ensuring that children don’t have access to them. Our state lawmakers are currently debating legislation that would make it a crime to fail to safeguard a firearm from minors. Whether you have children or not, if you have a gun, you also need to make sure it’s secure when you leave it in a car or at home.

I was astonished in November when I read a story in the Albuquerque Journal about the number of stolen guns in our community. Between 2018 and early November, there were more than 6,000 guns stolen in our city – between 1,400 and 1,100 each year, according to the story. That is a staggering problem and one that we need to get a handle on because the more guns we have flooding our streets the more likely it is that some of those guns are going to end up on our campuses. Some of those guns have already ended up in our schools.

We must also continue to encourage our students to say something if they see something. If they see someone with a gun at school or hear that a student has a gun, they need to feel comfortable telling an adult at the school. The see something, say something message is getting through, and it’s effective. It has led us to many of the guns we have found.

We’re working to make schools throughout the district more secure by installing perimeter fencing at numerous campuses to restrict access to schools and direct people to enter campuses through the fewest possible points. We’ve installed vestibules used as “man-traps” at some schools in case someone makes it through the first layer of security.

Other things we have done or are in the process of doing include:

  • Installing locks on all 6,900 classrooms in the district to allow staff to lock doors from the inside
  • Giving local law enforcement the ability to take control of live cameras on school sites
  • Implementing ALICE training, which encourages students and staff to evacuate and run from danger when possible.
  • Instituting a site safety plan at every school that students train for and follow. This includes active shooter drills.
  • Zero tolerance for any student caught with a gun on campus. That means an automatic one-year suspension.
  • And we know we don’t have enough security staff at schools. We’re trying to fix that, so if you know anyone interested, please ask them to apply.

Finally, as I mentioned in September, if you are a parent, it’s now more important than ever to talk with your students, listen to their concerns, and access available school wellness resources if needed. We can’t ignore our students if they are acting out because they need our help.

Nothing matters more than the safety and well-being of our students and our staff. But this is a community problem. APS can’t solve this on its own. We can’t solve it without help from the community, police and the courts. It’s going to take each and every one of us.

It’s time for us to roll up our sleeves and get to work.