School safety task force calls for proactive approach

Jeffco group’s written report will be published Oct. 19

Posted 10/9/18

The goal of the Jefferson County Public Schools’ community safety and security task force recommendations are to move from a reactive to proactive response when it comes to the safety and security …

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School safety task force calls for proactive approach

Jeffco group’s written report will be published Oct. 19

Posted

The goal of the Jefferson County Public Schools’ community safety and security task force recommendations is to move from a reactive to proactive response when it comes to the safety and security of students and staff.

Increased mental health supports and school security personnel, training for school staff and security and building improvements were threads woven throughout the recommendations made Oct. 4 to the Jeffco Board of Education by all four subcommittees of the task force.

MORE: Read the full report here

Before the Oct. 2 presentation, John McDonald, director of safety and security for Jeffco schools, recounted some of the history of violence in the district — shootings in 1981 at Deer Creek Middle School, 1999 at Columbine High School and 2010 at Deer Creek Middle School. He remembered Jessica Ridgeway, who was kidnapped and murdered in Westminster. And he recounted a student at Standley Lake High School who set himself on fire in front of 200 classmates.

“We’ve experienced tragedy,” McDonald said. “We’ve also set a standard in school safety that has tried to reach that pinnacle where we’re protecting 86,000 kids and 14,000 employees every single day. The work this task force has done not only takes into consideration the best practices for today, but they look into the future. The work that they have done I really believe will help us sustain for the next decade.”

The task force was created following the shooting at Stoneman Douglas High School in Parkland, Florida earlier this year.

“There was a renewed question of if we are doing all that we could to keep our schools safe and what other steps we could take to prevent acts of school violence and respond quickly to acts of school violence,” said Superintendent Dr. Jason Glass. “The questions and solutions that come when we talk about school violence are often matters of community values ... It asks us to think about what we want for our schools.”

More than 100 community members applied for the task force, and 50 were selected to represent varying school areas and viewpoints within Jeffco.

The charge of the task force was to produce a written report with recommended next steps for the school district to take for the safety of Jeffco’s children.

The task force was organized into four subcommittees based on the national school safety framework of prevention, preparedness, response and recovery. Each subcommittee created its own set of recommendations based on its focus.

Climate and culture

Recommendations from the climate and culture subcommittee largely focused on the mental health needs of students with an ask for increased behavioral health specialists such as school psychologists and social workers as well as more school counselors. The subcommittee also asked that these staff members be funded through the general fund rather than school-based budgets.

“While we agree resources are scarce, dedicated funding for this staff is a key,” said Shawna Fritzler, Jeffco parent and task force member. “We know that this will be worthy investment for our students.”

It was also recommended that staff students and families are provided quarterly training on topics relevant to student safety and well-being, including but not limited to sexual harassment and assault, social media safety, home safety including gun safety, drugs, juuling/vaping, suicide risk and self harm signs.

Training for staff, students and families on the statewide Safe2Tell system for anonymous tips was also suggested.

“Safe2Tell is a crucial resource that needs to be expanded,” Fritzler said. “It’s about so much more than school shootings. It can be used to ensure interventions happen in terms of drugs, depression … Including the parents in the process is so important.”

Threat assessment and management

More mental health supports in schools was also the first recommendation of the threat assessment and management subcommittee.

They pointed out a growing number of elementary schools using school-based budgeting dollars to fund full-time mental health professionals and an increase in threat assessments and Safe2Tell tips as evidence of this need.

Lisa Cook told the board that as of the morning of Oct. 2 this school year the district had just over 200 threat assessments. For the entire year of 2017-18 those numbers in Jeffco were over 800 threat assessments.

To help educate parents, it was recommended a threat assessment Q&A page be created on the district’s website and there be more communication from schools about how to report concerns.

The group also suggested additional communication between School Resource Officers, the district and police with a goal of ensuring continuity of reporting and tracking concerning behavior.

“When it comes to speaking with local law enforcement, we need that continuity of care,” said Heilit Biehl, parent and task force member.

She added that knowing the history of what has happened in school could help eliminate gaps where the district or responding law enforcement lacks complete information.

The final recommendation was to ensure consistency in school-level threat reporting.

“We have notes that there is an inconsistency on how school personnel actually share the information they are taking in,” Biehl said. “Not all concerns are brought forward in timely and efficient manners.”

Tactics and response

On the tactics and response side, the main ask was for additional staffing by adding the campus supervisor program — currently used at all high schools — to the middle schools and one armed campus supervisor to be added to all high schools.

The team also recommended that the district bump up trainings on the standard response protocol to three times a year and lock down drills to twice a year to ensure all staff can call a lockdown from anywhere in the building. Stun gun training for all Jeffco R-1 armed security was also suggested as a non-lethal approach.

Improved access for law enforcement was recommended by making classroom numbers visible from hallways and the exterior of the building and creating up-to-date maps.

Not included in this subcommittee’s recommendations, but rather a slide titled “important considerations” was a line that suggested Jeffco “study programs where school staff (non-security) is armed in order to determine if such programs would work for Jeffco.”

Utah schools were used as an example. During the presentation committee member Jason Thompson pointed out that the committee is only asking that the district study these programs.

“We are not saying no or yes, were just asking that it be looked at further to see if it would work here in Jeffco schools,” Thompson said.

Target hardening and physical security

A request for increased security and safety personnel also came from the target hardening and physical security subcommittee. The ask: Add campus security to middle schools, increase campus supervisors at high schools and required that all entry points at high schools be staffed by trained employees.

The big push from this committee however, was construction improvements.

3M Safety film was recommended for all windows that give easy access to the school building and classrooms that do not offer adequate concealment. Camera upgrades, improved lockdown locations, exterior door numbers, exterior door alarms, interior door locks, mass trauma kits and the installment of bollards were also on the list.

There was also a request that all modular and temporary buildings be removed.

The final recommendation was that the district move major budgetary items under the Department of School Safety so they would be in charge of determining major budgetary items relating to school safety and security.

Next steps

“As you’re all well aware the landscape for our schools has changed drastically over the past 20 years,” said Jeff Pierson, director of safe schools and environments for Jeffco schools. “We validate the work this group has done and their mindset that has been forward thinking with safe and secure schools in mind. School safety is at the forefront of discussions not only here in Jeffco but across this nation. The topic itself causes tension, anxiety and at times a strong sense of passion.”

The full written report, including a forward by Glass and district follow-up to recommendations are to be published on Oct. 19.

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