It was a meeting like no other of the Littleton Public Schools Board of Education.
On Jan. 21, the crowd spilled out of the board room and into the foyer. Reporters and news cameras flanked one wall. Two former board members formally joined the …
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On Jan. 21, the crowd spilled out of the board room and into the foyer. Reporters and news cameras flanked one wall. Two former board members formally joined the five current ones, and there were others in the audience. Arapahoe County Sheriff Dave Walcher sat next to District Attorney George Brauchler, up front and center.
As they all watched, Arapahoe High School Principal Natalie Pramenko approached the podium. Through tears, she said she was deeply sorry for the tragic loss of Claire Davis, who was shot to death by a fellow classmate on Dec. 13, 2013.
“She would be proud to know that the Arapahoe High School spirit is alive and well,” said Pramenko. “… Claire's spirit lives on in the hallways.”
It was the first time she had ever publicly apologized.
She was followed by Superintendent Brian Ewert, who acknowledged that even he had questions about how such a tragedy could have happened when he took over the district last summer.
“There are topics in this report that the community is simply entitled to hear,” he said.
Four experts reviewed their findings, which weren't all easy to hear. The door the killer walked through was supposed to be locked. Behavior wasn't thoroughly documented or followed up on. There is a culture that promotes “groupthink.” Teachers don't always get listened to. Kids could have been reunited with families better after the incident.
Other news was better. Some positive changes have already been made. The district spent more than $800,000 on mental health-related improvements. Safe2Tell stickers now appear on all student IDs, giving kids easy access to anonymously report signs of trouble. And all in all, agreed the researchers, Arapahoe High was at least as safe as most schools in the country, even on Dec. 13, 2013.
Just three people spoke during public comment, two of whom are critical of the district on a fairly frequent basis. But one former Arapahoe teacher was there to say he hoped the community could now move forward.
“We have heard a lot of data tonight, but action speaks louder than data,” said Gregory Tyler. “… I'm a forgiving person. I can get past this. But I know a lot of people are still hurting.”
School board member Jim Stephens had two children in the building that day.
“I'm heartbroken every day,” he said. “The staff, I'm completely in awe of the grace and the love you show each other. Too many of you heard or saw things on that day that nobody should ever hear or see.”
The audience was completely hushed during the presentation, which ended with board members urging community cohesion.
“While we can't make sense of this tragedy, we can come up with ways to prevent it from happening again,” said Lucie Stanish, former board president. But the schools can't do it alone. We all need to work together, because this is a societal issue, not just a school issue.”
But after the crowds left, reporters pounced during a planned press conference.
“Was there a cover-up after the incident? Why was there no communication with the press?” some asked.
Of course not, was the answer. It was a strategy, they said, and there were legal implications, but the district always stayed in touch with its families.
“It was just so foreign in this community, it didn't feel right,” said Ewert, who was the Englewood Public Schools superintendent at the time. “Quite frankly, as an outsider, I didn't understand it either.”
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