Since the terrible school shooting in Florida, many have asked me, “What does Jeffco Public Schools do to keep our students safe?” In the years since Columbine, we have learned a great deal about better securing our schools and Jeffco Public Schools has become a national leader in systems to safeguard students. While I am not able to provide complete detail as to our systems (since it would make them easier to defeat), I would like to touch on some of the ways we work to keep our students safe from harm.
It all starts with prevention. Over the past few years, Jeffco has added investment into counseling and mental health supports for students. While we are far from returning to pre-recession staffing levels, Jeffco has made this a priority. We have increased mental health support for students and will continue to have this as a priority moving forward. We also have a threat assessment team that reviews concerning student behavior issues. This team of mental health professionals, law enforcement, legal advisers, school discipline experts, and others consults together to develop safety plans for at-risk students.
Jeffco also relies on a reporting system called Safe2Tell®. This anonymous reporting system notifies school and law enforcement personnel of potential risks reported by students and parents; actions are taken immediately based on the nature of the information. Safe2Tell® has been an invaluable tool in preventing violence and supporting students in crisis.
In addition to these intervention efforts, Jeffco Public Schools also partners closely with our local law enforcement agencies. Part of this partnership includes 30 School Resource Officers (SROs) in our schools. These SROs are trained law enforcement officers who also have additional training working with students and families in an educational setting. These officers are funded by our local law enforcement agencies, and we are incredibly grateful for this support for safety in our schools.
Jeffco Public Schools has 130 personnel dedicated to safety and security, including 74 campus supervisors and 17 security officers. These individuals work to keep our school facilities secure, patrol our schools, and respond to specific threats or concerns.
Our staff and students also contribute to school safety by practicing safety procedures including “lockout” (the exterior of the building is secured while normal operations take place inside), “lockdown”(all interior building doors are also locked, and students and staff keep quiet and out of site), “evacuate” (get out of the building), and “shelter” (followed by direction for a specific action students and staff should take to get to a secure location). Our schools drill these responses on a regular basis so actions can be taken quickly and efficiently in the event of an emergency.
Our security staff and law enforcement partners continually assist us in looking at the physical safety elements of our buildings. While many of our buildings were developed prior to the reality of potential active shooters we are constantly considering how we can maximize the safety elements within our system. We work to make upgrades and improvements replacing locking systems, altering access points, modifying entry systems, and employing camera systems. Many of our schools were designed and built before something like an active shooter was part of our reality. This makes solutions such as metal detectors limited in their impact if a building has an open campus or a large number of ground level doors and windows. Still, we work to make upgrades and improvements continuously on our buildings to provide the best protections we can regarding limiting direct access.
Even with all these prevention measures, incidents and crises still occur. Jeffco Public Schools follows the FEMA (Federal Emergency Management Agency) National Incident Management System when a situation arises. The district has a Crisis Response Team that works to manage potential threats and other issues. In the event of an ongoing or more significant issue, the district can also quickly activate an Incident Management Team to handle a prolonged incident.
Jeffco Public Schools also operates the Frank D’Angelis Center for Community Safety. This training facility is a repurposed school building where law enforcement officers and first responders from around the country train for how to respond to emergencies in a school setting. Of course, our local law enforcement, first responders, and school security team train in the facility regularly.
While much has changed in the years since Columbine regarding how we work to keep our students safe, our teams are continuously studying incidents of school violence from around the world and adapting our practices based on the latest information.
The disturbing images and stories from Parkland, Florida shook us all to the core. Since that day, we’ve been working to investigate copycat threats (all of which have been found not credible) and to provide information to students, parents, staff, and interested community members on what we can do to keep our schools safe. Jeffco Public Schools is committed to school safety and to working with our community to make sure we all understand the part we have to play in keeping Jeffco’s kids safe.
In addition to information on school safety available on the district’s website, we’ll continue to publish articles such as this one and to reach out to our families through regular communication channels. We are hosting a live and recorded event where people can learn more and ask questions. On March 20, at Lakewood High School, from 6:00-8:30 p.m., we will be hosting a panel discussion on school safety with school safety and law enforcement experts. We hope you can make it and encourage you to share this opportunity with others.
I understand the fear and anxiety that the recent Florida school shooting brings to our community, and I am so sorry we are experiencing this. Please know that Jeffco Public Schools takes our responsibility to keep our students safe as a sacred trust.
Note on the artwork attached to this post, The Flowers of Columbine by Michelle Miller Powell: This print is hung in the Superintendent’s office of Jeffco Public Schools. While I do not know it’s history, I imagine it was placed there by Jane Hammond, the district’s Superintendent during and after the Columbine shooting. It serves as a daily reminder to me (and every Jeffco Superintendent before or after me) of the sacred trust our families place in our schools to ensure the safety of the community’s children, and the incredible responsibility of our profession.