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The history of STEM School Highlands Ranch

Charter School opened in 2011 converting 60,000 square-foot office building into classrooms

HIGHLANDS RANCH, Colo. — When the STEM School was forming in 2010, 9NEWS was there to show how a 60,000 square-foot office in space in Highlands Ranch was transforming into a school focused on science, technology, engineering and math.

"If we look at our competition around the world, we're really lagging as a nation," said Marilyn Manning in 2010 as a representative of what called was STEM School and Academy at the time.

As time went on, the school grew into a K-12 school with academic success. Some of STEM's students were so outstanding, they garnered national attention like Gitanjali Rao, a seventh grader who named as Discovery Kids' 2017 "America's Top Young Scientist" for inventing a device that can detect lead levels in water.

The school changed its name to STEM School Highlands Ranch in 2017. As a charter school, it is run by a separate board from Douglas County, but the Douglas County School District does hold the charter contract allowing the STEM school to operate within the district.

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Earlier this year, STEM School Highlands Ranch applied for a 5-year renewal of its charter contract. The Douglas County School Board only offered three years and a made a list of required improvements including an improved communications pathway for parents and students to lodge complaints.

An online web petition was started. It cites several civil rights lawsuits filed against the STEM School while calling for the termination of STEM's current charter board president and executive director.

On Tuesday, the STEM School unwillingly joined the list of school shootings. As a charter school separate from the district, the STEM School contracts a private company for security. Grant Whitus with BOSS High Level Protection explains how his business works.

"I wanted to take all the training that we've given to law enforcement officers over the last years since Columbine. Take the young military men and women that are getting out of the service, train them to that level and offer them to schools to protect the children," Whitus said.

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Whitus says his security officer, a former Marine, helped detain one of the shooters before police arrived.

"Our guard was instrumental in taking down one of the shooters," Whitus said. "Cuffing that person up and handing that person over to law enforcement agents when they arrived."

In the aftermath that left one student dead and eight others injured, the original founders of the STEM School released a statement which reads, "This school and its students, past and future, are like our own children. We are praying for all of the students of STEM, parents and staff." 

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