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Charter renewed for Colorado school where shooting happened

FILE – In this May 8, 2019 file photo bouquets of flowers sit on the sign outside the STEM School Highlands Ranch in Highlands Ranch, Colo. Security procedures at the STEM School Highlands Ranch are under scrutiny amid talks about its charter agreement with a Colorado school district. The contract expires Saturday, June 29. (AP Photo/David Zalubowski, File)

HIGHLANDS RANCH, Colo. (AP) — A Colorado school that was the site of a fatal shooting received a conditional five-year renewal of its charter on Saturday that requires it to meet certain reporting, staffing and safety requirements, such as the hiring of additional security personnel.

The contract approved by the Douglas County Board of Education and STEM School Highlands Ranch officials came hours before the charter was set to expire on Saturday and after renewed negotiations that had been put on hold by the May 7 school shooting that killed one student and wounded eight others.

“My consideration is how to make sure that the STEM students (are) safe,” board member Kevin Leung said shortly before the unanimous vote.

Charter schools are publicly funded but privately managed and designed to be free from heavy day-to-day oversight. Supporters say it allows charters to innovate and find new solutions to educate those who struggle in traditional public school systems.

The board already was scrutinizing the performance of the science- and math-focused school over concerns such as financial transparency and special education, and the May shooting led to new questions about security and operations. Its members had proposed a three-year renewal, but STEM school officials were pushing for a five-year deal.

The contract approved Saturday calls for a five-year charter renewal, but that can be shortened to three years by the board if the school fails to meet certain conditions. Those include teacher and mental health employee numbers that meet district staff-to-student ratios, transparency requirements for meetings and financial policies, along with up-to-date training of administration and mental health professionals.

Safety measures include staff training in threat and safety assessments and a requirement for the school to review safety assessment data each semester.

The terms also require the school to contract with local law-enforcement agencies for a school resource officer who will be assigned to the high school program, in addition to a private security officer for the middle school and elementary school programs.

School leaders previously said STEM will add a full-time school resource officer from a sheriff’s office this fall.

That is an expansion of the security that was in place at the time of the shooting, when one private security guard was assigned to the school. Court documents say that guard mistakenly fired at a sheriff’s deputy and wounded a student during the shooting, but later captured one of the accused shooters.

Two teenage students have been charged in the attack and told police they knew which entrances to use because they would not be stopped, according to newly released court documents. One of the suspects also said he planned to target classmates who taunted him over his gender identity.

A special prosecutor is reviewing the guard’s actions. An attorney for the guard, whose name has not been released, has declined to comment.

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