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Colorado School Safety

387 school shootings have been recorded by Stop the Shootings since 1992. Six of those tragedies took place at Colorado schools. These events have forced our country to face the horrific loss that can occur when schools and communities are unprepared or ill-equipped to handle and mitigate school safety threats. Over the last several weeks we have been discussing a wide variety of school safety topics here at Moms Fight Back and today we want to take a closer look at Colorado school safety. Some of the findings are frustrating and discouraging, while others remind us that change is possible and it is necessary. We encourage you to weigh in and share what your community is doing to address school safety.

Troubling Findings
Colorado School Safety Data Offered to Parents is Unreliable: A joint report by 7NEWS and The Denver Post found that even though Colorado’s state law requires school districts to report discipline and safety records, that the safety information provided to parents lacks state oversight and varies significantly from one district to another. While some schools do not report serious assaults (ones the police consider felonies) other schools report even the smallest fight between elementary students. The discrepancy causes confusion and a lack of clear understanding on the level of safety each school offers. According to the article, the investigation “uncovered inaccurate or misleading school violence reports are not uncommon — and are part of a system plagued with loopholes, vague requirements, and lax oversight.” The lack of information and consistency make it challenging for parents to assess the school effectively.

Laws Say They Must, But State District Attorneys Aren’t Reporting School Crime Data: According to the North Forty News, “Nineteen of the state’s 22 district attorney offices charged with enforcing Colorado’s laws are not complying with a 2012 law that requires reports on criminal offenses committed by K-12 students on school grounds or at school events.” The requirements of the law were created to measure the effects of eliminating the “so-called zero-tolerance school-to-prison pipeline.” The law requires district attorneys to create detailed reports including the “number and types of offenses filed in court, disposition of each case, age, gender, school, race or ethnicity of each student prosecuted, the number of and types of offenses referred to the district attorney by law enforcement but not prosecuted, and number of offenders referred to juvenile-diversion programs.” According to this article, only three of the 22 district attorneys filed the required reports in 2013. Kim Dvorchak, executive director and founder of the Colorado Juvenile Defender Coalition stated, “We need that baseline data to see if the law is having any effect at reducing the incarceration of youth, particularly youth of color,” Dvorchak said. “It’s important to aggregate (the full three years, 2013-2016) to see if there were declines. And we’d like to be able to conduct some analysis now, but we can’t do that.”

Positive Change
Colorado Senate Supports School Safety Bill: This bill was unanimously approved in March 2013. The bill added school resource officers (SROs) as community partners to help improve school safety. The bill also requires the state to provide grant writing assistance to school and districts within the following five years. A school safety task force was created and developed a three-step model showing how a school safety grant writing assistance program would work. Download the summary, here.

Two-day Colorado Safe Schools Summit 2014: Governor John Hickenlooper has declared October as Colorado Safe Schools Month. In October 2014, the Colorado Safe School Summit was held and focused on bullying, social media and suicide, pre-attack indicators and prevention measures. More than 300 teachers, administrators and police officers came together to brainstorm solutions for the most pressing school safety issues. State Senator Steve King stated, “We need to be proactive about children’s safety and the safety of our teachers and staff.”

Colorado School Safety Interactive Database: The state of Colorado requires schools to report disciplinary incidents in 12 categories – ranging from felony assaults to less serious acts like breaking the code of conduct. This database provides data from 2001-02 to the 2013-14 school years. Users can filter results based on district, school, incident/punishment, and by year. All records were acquired by an open records request to the state’s Department of Education.

Colorado Schools Receive ‘Satisfactory’ Report Card for Emergency Preparedness: Save the Children, a nonprofit group, assessed the disaster preparedness of Colorado-based schools and child care facilities. The state was given a ‘satisfactory grade.’ The article explains that four key categories were measured including: a plan for evacuating children in child care, a plan for reuniting families after a disaster, a plan for children with disabilities and those with access and functional needs, and a multi-hazard plan for K-12 schools. The grade was based on the facility’s preparedness for a variety of emergency situations. Evacuation and lockdown plans for a shooter situation were analyzed as well as a safe room situation when schools are threatened by a natural disaster. The hope is that the state will continue to improve this grade through dedicated school safety efforts.

Colorado Schools Ramp Up School Safety: After the Sandy Hook Elementary shooting, many Colorado school districts began reviewing their security standards and emergency procedures. According to the Chalkbeat Colorado article, “Some districts are locking front doors, installing video buzzer systems, or implementing tougher rules for school visitors. Other districts are partnering with local law enforcement agencies to conduct staff trainings, emergency drills or building security reviews. In a few schools, measures such as bullet-proof glass or school marshals, similar to air marshals, are under consideration.” One of the reasons positive action has been taken in several communities, is a result of parents voicing their concerns in light of the Sandy Hook tragedy. The regional safe school coordinator for the San Juan Board of Cooperative Educational Services, Kathy Morris stated, “The questions started coming: ‘What are you doing about safety and security on my child’s campus?’” In addition to the measures being taken in the schools, Morris said that her districts are also educating their students about Safe2Tell, an “anonymous statewide system that allows students or parents to report threats of school violence or other dangerous situations.”

While our state is far from perfect and there are many necessary improvements, we hope that more parents and administrators are getting involved in the school safety conversation. Let your voices be heard! We need to demand consistency, clear planning and follow-through. Together, we can make a difference for our children and our communities.


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