I had planned on writing about Teacher Appreciation Week today, and taking note of the ways we can and should be sharing the positive stories that come from our schools every single day. Things change.
Instead, this week, we are all reeling again from yet another school shooting. This time in Jeffco’s neighboring community of Douglas County at the STEM School in Highlands Ranch.
Investigations are already underway about what happened (or didn’t happen) and what was known (or not known). As with all of these incidents, everything will be reviewed and heavily scrutinized to determine what could have been done differently and how other school systems (including Jeffco) can review practices for how they might be modified or adjusted based on this latest tragedy.
Perhaps predictably, my email inbox and social media feeds filled up this week with lots of people frustrated that this had occurred yet again – people who were angry about expressions of “thoughts and prayers” and other heartfelt, but also hollow, condolences.
I feel the same way. As a father who sent my own children (6 and 7 years old) to Jeffco Schools this week, I get it completely.
Federal and state political solutions are going nowhere. After Sandy Hook, when 20 elementary school students were murdered and nothing happened, I lost faith completely in our governmental institutions to do anything effectual on this issue.
But I hear a great deal that “someone should do something.”
I want to say something important to everyone. The people working in your schools are doing something. The kids themselves are doing something. We have been doing something. And we will keep doing something.
And, in partnership with local law enforcement, we are the only people “doing something.”
While we do not disclose safety and security procedures or capacities because doing so makes them less effective, I can tell you that our district places an incredible priority on this issue. We employ 127 people in our school security division alone and have 36 law enforcement school resource officers working in our schools.
In addition, we have hundreds of individuals working in student mental health and a robust threat assessment process that works around the clock. To date, we have managed 951 threat assessments in Jeffco this year. Yes, you read that correctly. This is in addition to our growing investments in mental health and proactive supports.
Last year, in the wake of the Parkland shooting, we convened a community task force to evaluate Jeffco’s security systems and to recommend changes. Their final report heralded Jeffco’s model as the “gold standard” of school safety, and also recommended changes going forward. Thanks to our voters passing 5A and 5B, we are implementing many of those recommended changes. You can read their report here.
There are also lots of other ideas percolating up from our community. Like why don’t we put an armed guard in every school, or put in metal detectors in every building.
Yes, we have thought of these. While tempting as surface solutions, these are neither complete nor easy.
For the record, we do have armed personnel and Jeffco law enforcement can typically respond and enter a school in around 2 minutes. Compare this response to the hours that went by 20 years ago at Columbine.
But when we talk about just adding armed personnel, we have to keep in mind the magnitude of the space. Many of our schools have the square footage of shopping malls, with far more possible entry points. Many were also designed decades ago when no one was thinking about the contagion of school shootings. Just adding armed guards is neither complete nor easy, but it is already part of our solution.
Others come forth and they say just add metal detectors. Yes, we have considered that. This solution is also neither complete nor easy. Queues for metal detectors create a predictable choke and crowd point. While this measure would allow us to better control what goes into the school, doing so also creates a new soft target outside the building. We don’t like to think about it, but courthouses and airports have this issue as well.
This is a new and very scary era in which we are raising our children. As an educator, this is never something I signed up for – no one in this profession did.
And in Jeffco Public Schools, there is no hand-wringing and waiting. We are it. There is no one else doing anything.
Perhaps this did turn into a message about appreciation after all.