On March 14, thousands of Jeffco students participated in a national school walkout effort related to the tragic incident at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School in Parkland, Florida. As this protest also involved a political perspective associated with the gun-control issue, Jeffco Public Schools did not take a position or formally endorse the walkouts. However, given the magnitude of the protest, we took steps to encourage students to keep the event orderly, timely, and respectful. Staff and local law enforcement coordinated on behalf of student safety – including those who did not wish to participate or who had an opposing view.
I am pleased to report that the event occurred as planned, with most schools returning to normal operation within 30-45 minutes. There were no incidents of violence, damage to property, or disrespectful behavior reported on March 14. I wish to express my appreciation and gratitude to our students, our school and district staff, our law enforcement partners across Jeffco, and members of our community for working together to ensure that outcome.
As we turn the page on this event, we now shift our attention to the conversation we must have as a community about the next steps we should take related to school safety. Jeffco Public Schools already has many continuously running systems and supports in place to provide a safe learning environment for our students. However, since the Florida shooting, several ideas have been put forward as possible improvements to school safety procedures. These ideas include, but are not limited to, the following:
- Arming teachers and other school staff;
- Securing our buildings with metal detectors, closed campuses, and other physical features;
- Restricting or outlawing firearms; and
- Adding new mental health resources and supports to schools.
While each of these (and other) proposed solutions has supporters and merit, each has significant drawbacks, as well. Constitutional, ideological, resources, and community values are a few of these challenges. Further, several of these options may be difficult to implement realistically, or they may bring foreseeable problems we should carefully consider.
In short, there are no easy answers. If it were easy, it would have been done already. So, we need more input from the community on our next steps. We need to hear from each other, understanding that we all love Jeffco’s children and wish them to be safe from harm.
Toward that end, we are holding a community meeting March 20 at Lakewood High School from 6-9 p.m. Attendees will have the chance to learn about best practices related to school safety, hear from experts in our community and state, talk with neighbors and other community members about ideas, and share perspectives. Those not able to attend in person can view a livestream of the event and give feedback through our School Safety Task Force webpage.
At the end of the event, we will also be seeking applicants for a Jeffco School Safety and Security Task Force. Over the next several months, this group will work to recommend potential shifts in policies and practices at our schools so they are as safe as they can be and our solutions are in-line with our community values.
I want to be clear that this work to engage the community will not keep our current district leadership and school safety staff from implementing changes aligned with current best practices on school safety. At Jeffco Public Schools, we are constantly aware of our community’s painful past when it comes to school violence, and are continuously reviewing and implementing changes to our practices to keep our schools as safe as we possibly can.
I deeply understand the passion and emotion this issue creates in our community. In addition to being Superintendent, I am also a father of two school-aged children. Please know this is personal to me, just as it is to you.
I encourage us all to take the time to hear our neighbors and their perspectives. Just because we believe something different, does not necessarily make one side right or wrong. I believe deeply in our schools, our community, and this country – and I know we are capable of coming together to solve big problems, especially when it comes to our children.