School safety task force works to create safer schools

Community members in group work to create recommendations for school board by August 20

Caitlin Danborn
Special to Colorado Community Media
Posted 8/14/18

Over the course of the summer, a school safety and security task force for Jefferson County Public Schools has been working to brainstorm innovative ideas on how to keep Jeffco students safe. On …

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School safety task force works to create safer schools

Community members in group work to create recommendations for school board by August 20

Posted

Over the course of the summer, a school safety and security task force for Jefferson County Public Schools has been working to brainstorm innovative ideas on how to keep Jeffco students safe. On paper, the group’s task seems simple enough: prepare a set of written recommendations to the school board and superintendent Dr. Jason Glass by Aug. 20. In practice, the task involves thinking outside the box, difficult conversations, and an extremely complex issue.

The group assembled in spring 2018 after a public Jeffco School Safety Forum held at Lakewood High School. Attendees at the forum and other community members were invited to apply for the task force. By April, 50 of the more than 100 applicants were chosen to represent the various Jeffco articulation areas, and meetings began in June. Students were not invited to apply.

Jeff Pierson, director of safe school environments for Jefferson County Schools, is helping to lead the task force. Pierson, a former principal at Standley Lake High School, said the school board is looking for the group to come up with innovative and effective ideas “so that all of our students and staff can go to school each and every day and know that they’re safe.”

The group is split up into four different subcommittees: climate and culture, threat assessment and management, target hardening/physical security, and tactics and response.

Most of the members of the climate and culture subcommittee are parents or grandparents of Jeffco students. Some are district employees.

After brainstorming at a July 9 meeting the group attempted to narrow down their list of recommendations. On the list of topics at one recent meeting: mental health, improving communication between parents and the district, training, community collaboration, and Safe 2 Tell. Pierson guided the group in discussion as Jeffco Chief Student Success Officer Kevin Carroll offers expert input.

Carroll walks the group through what he calls the “constellation” of mental health at Jeffco schools. Every elementary school in the district has a half-time social worker, regardless of size.

Schools can allocate their budgets to “buy up” to a full time social worker; 62 out of 156 schools in the district do this. Every middle and high school has a full-time social worker, and most high schools have between three and five counselors. However, these counselors may not have the training to assess a student’s mental state like a social worker can.

Two weeks later on July 23 the target hardening/physical security subcommittee explored another component of school safety. The group uses a street to classroom approach, starting with the exterior security of a school and moving inward. Brandon Rood, district campus supervisor coordinator, leads this group and provides suggestions based on his experience.

Members consider every possible aspect of physical security: the construction of a building, the security cameras surrounding its exterior, police presence in the area, securing the entrance and exit points of a school.

The group discusses the existing relationship that Jeffco schools has with local law enforcement and how it can be improved. Most middle and high schools have one School Resource Officer, a member of the local police department that spends their time at the school interacting with kids. School Resource Officers are typically the only armed presence on campus and are funded by the police departments, not by the district.

Budget is certainly a concern for the recommendations the committee plans to make to the school board; its shadow hangs over the group’s discussion. Rood suggests that the group explore options that would not require new funding and even suggests that parents push their PTAs to purchase cheaper items like Home Depot buckets. These buckets are used as emergency buckets and contain food and water and can also be used as human waste containers during lockdowns.

At one point the idea of distributing bulletproof backpacks comes up, and it is quickly nixed by Rood. He does not want to give parents or students the notion that a shooting will inevitably happen at a Jeffco school.

“If we do this, we give in,” Rood said.

Once the task force presents its recommendations to the school board, it will be up to the board to decide which practices to put into place. The board will also decide how to finance them, even if that means asking voters for more money in the form of a bond or mill levy on the ballot in November.

Jamie Robinson and Mishan Pils, both on the target hardening/physical security subcommittee, are parents of Jeffco students.

“With the recent school shootings, I’ve had a concern with safety in the district. I thought this was a perfect chance to make a difference, have an impact,” Robinson said.

Pils agrees. She became “really, really concerned after Parkland” and started a safety committee at her son’s school, Prospect Valley Elementary School in Wheat Ridge. The open concept design of the school concerned her, Pils said. She plans to take what she learns through her work on the task force and implement it at Prospect Valley.

“I mostly wanted to effect change at my school,” Pils said.

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