With the recent attack at a Parkland, Florida, high schools — and with the massacre at Columbine High School nearing its 19th anniversary — parents, students and Jefferson County Public Schools …
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With the recent attack at a Parkland, Florida, high schools — and with the massacre at Columbine High School nearing its 19th anniversary — parents, students and Jefferson County Public Schools have been grappling with one concern: How to ensure nothing like these attacks ever happens again.
On March 20, the county took first steps toward that goal.
“Jefferson County has experience with these kinds of tragedies,” Superintendent Jason Glass told the several hundred parents, teachers and community members at the district’s first safety forum, held March 20 at Lakewood High School. “This is part of a larger community conversation about what we can do. All options at present come with their own challenges and problems.”
The evening featured presentations from a panel of experts, including police chiefs from Arvada, Edgewater, Golden, Lakewood, Westminster, Wheat Ridge, Jeffco Sheriff Jeff Shrader, District Attorney Pete Weir and organizations such as the I Love U Guys Foundation and Safe2Tell.
“I can’t begin to describe the importance of the relationship between the district and local police departments,” said Dan Brennan, Wheat Ridge police chief. “Every time a shooting happens, we’re all snapped back to the Columbine situation, and then we have some tough decisions to make.”
The evening was led by John McDonald, executive director of security and emergency management with Jeffco Schools.
“This is not an easy conversation to have, but what we need is direct and honest dialogue,” he said. “We start teaching children about school safety at 3 years old now, because for 19 years we have been learning lessons about keeping students safe.”
Here are some of the key topics discussed during the evening.
What Jeffco Schools are already doing
In the years since Columbine, the county has learned from other shootings that have happened, not just in Colorado, but throughout the country. As McDonald said, shootings don’t just happen in schools — they happen in malls, churches and movie theaters as well.
One of the most helpful tools the district has is Safe2Tell, an anonymous statewide program for students, parents, school staff and community members to report concerns regarding their safety or the safety of others.
“We’re focusing on early prevention,” said Susan Payne, director of Safe2Tell. “We know from a Secret Service study that for most school violence, someone other than the attacker knew it was going to happen but failed to report it.”
When it comes to working directly with students and staff in schools, School Resource Officers (SROs) are also extremely popular.
“We owe students and teachers the gift of SROs, not only because they’re trained, but because it provides students a positive relationship with law enforcement,” McDonald said.
Students also participate in lockdown drills and have access to mental health services. The district also is starting three new initiatives.
The first initiative includes several update by McDonald and his department, including working to assist students in transitional situations, such as moving from elementary to middle school, enhanced Safe2Tell programs and strategic campus safety.
The second initiative is the Counteterrorism Education Learning Lab’s (CELL) Community Awareness Program, which provides training on the basic tools necessary to recognize and prevent criminal and terrorist activity. The third is Stop the Bleed, which provides training for educators in trauma medical care.
John-Michael Keyes created the I Love U Guys Foundation after his daughter, Emily, was killed by a gunman at Platte Canyon High School in 2006. The foundation provides a safe response protocol during an emergency, which includes four actions — lockout, lockdown, evacuate and shelter. This program has been implemented in the county and is continually refined and improved.
What still needs to be done
The biggest roadblock to many changes that experts recommend is money.
As McDonald explained, the district doesn’t have a funding stream to enhance school building safety at many buildings that are more than 50 years old.
“There have been so many calls for more mental health access, but it would cost $13 million to add a mental health support person to every school,” he said. “We have 4,800 classrooms in our schools, and to update locks on those doors so they lock from the inside is very expensive. So far, we’ve updated 1,300, but it will cost about $4 million to do the rest.”
Other options like metal detectors, increased video surveillance and stronger glass also add up to a significant bill.
And the district does not pay for school resources officers — that expense comes from law enforcement agencies, many of which are already financially strapped.
“We have 29 schools in Arvada alone,” Arvada Police Chief Ed Brady said. “That’s why school-based programs like the Watch D.O.G.S. (Dads of Great Students) are so helpful.” Watch D.O.G.S. is a program where fathers, grandfathers, uncles, and other father figures volunteer at their child’s school one day a year. While there, they monitor the entrance and lunch room, and assist in any other necessary tasks.
What next steps look like
Following the panel discussion, attendees went into different classrooms based on high school articulation areas, where there was a facilitated discussion about possible solutions.
Responses from these discussions shared similar themes, including appreciation for the work of school resource officers, the need for more mental health services and ways to make school buildings safer.
“This is a reality we all face,” said Shrader. “There are so many fixes people think will be really simple, but that’s just not the case.”
When it comes to next steps, the district is creating a School Safety and Security Task Force that will meet over the coming four months or so and talk to a variety of stakeholders about concrete options to address school safety.
Anyone interested in participating in this task force can get more information at www.jeffcopublicschools.org/services/security/school_safety___security_task_force.
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