Representatives from law enforcement, research groups and the Colorado School Safety Resource Center pointed to ideas that are producing results in schools, including programs to encourage students to support each other, training on how to handle student threats, and protocols to make sure everyone is on the same page during an emergency.
The interim school safety committee, which met for the first time Thursday, was created in the wake of May’s deadly shooting at STEM School Highlands Ranch and the perceived threat that shut down hundreds of Denver-area schools the preceding month.
A previous school safety committee met for only one year and didn’t propose any legislation.
Some districts still aren’t using the standard emergency protocol, developed so everyone would use the same language in a threatening situation, said Mike Eaton, chief of safety for Denver Public Schools.
“Our current state of school safety, it’s strong,” he said. “But unfortunately, it’s inconsistent.”
Districts differ in how much money they put into school resource officers and how much training they require, said James Englert, an officer assigned to Arapahoe High School in Centennial. Ideally, every officer would complete at least 40 hours of basic training, and another 12 hours about adolescent mental health, he said.
Lindsey Myers, branch chief of violence and injury prevention at the Colorado Department of Public Health and Environment, said consistency also is lacking in programs to improve youth mental health. About 11% of Colorado middle schools and 16% of high schools use two programs that have been shown to cut the risk of suicide, she said.
“In the schools that have implemented these programs, we have seen success,” she said.
While the programs haven’t been studied as a way to prevent homicide, many of the risk factors for suicide are the same ones that increase the odds of mass violence, Myers said.
Much of the grant funding for prevention work has gone to metropolitan areas, not to communities in southeast Colorado and on the Western Slope that have high need for mental health support, but lack people who can put together the applications, said Camille Harding, division director of community behavioral health at the Colorado Department of Human Services.
Brad Stiles, an emergency response outreach consultant at the Colorado School Safety Resource Center, told committee members that training and other help is available for districts, but said they can’t track how districts choose to handle security.
“Because we’re local control, we don’t know,” he said.Sen. Julie Gonzales, a Denver Democrat, said there was a disconnect between the programs they heard about, and the fear students, parents and teachers described in classrooms.
“We have a lot of systems that are in place but we haven’t brought them to scale,” she said. “How do we bring them to scale in a way that doesn’t burden communities?”
Committee chair Rep. Dafna Jenet, D-Commerce City, said the committee also will focus on reducing the risk of suicide.
“There is no student that walks into school to commit a school shooting that thinks they’re coming out alive,” she said. “If we can figure out that magic piece that is going to stop suicide, we can stop school shootings.”