School safety dollars should support mental health, positive behavior support

Written by: Samantha Espinoza
Date Posted: October 12, 2018

Last week we asked state officials to ensure new school safety grants will support more than just hardware improvements and increasing security in our school buildings. The grants, authorized by the Colorado General Assembly earlier this year in response to a deadly school shooting in Parkland, Florida, will provide millions of dollars to Colorado schools. We urged officials to ensure the money supports evidence-based practices to boost student mental health and safety in Colorado schools.

Our President and CEO, Kelly Causey, delivered testimony with our partners Padres & Jóvenes Unidos at a final rule hearing for the grant program, known as the School Security Disbursement Program. The disbursement program is one of four school safety bills passed last session in response to the tragic acts of school violence at Parkland. However it includes the bulk of funding: $30 million of the $35 million carved out for school safety. The legislation allows schools to apply for grants to improve safety through capital construction, hardware installments and training for school building staff who have contact with children and school resource officers.

We know that research on the effectiveness of physical school safety measures such as metal detectors, video cameras, and School Resource Officers is extremely limited. There is not substantial evidence linking these initiatives to reductions in school violence. There is, however, a large body of evidence that shows a student’s exposure to a positive school environment, having close relationships with his or her peers and having positive social interactions reduce the likelihood that he or she will be a perpetrator of school violence.  Research also supports investments in in-school mental health services, behavioral interventions and positive behavioral support. The trainings offered and paid for by the school security disbursement program should reflect this evidence base to promote school safety.

The Colorado Division of Homeland Security is responsible for shaping the disbursement program’s rules that outline how grant dollars can be spent. We urged officials to ensure training for all building staff and school resources officers include the most effective forms of training, including how to promote a positive school environment and how to support student mental health.

Padres & Jóvenes Unidos, a multi-issue organization led by people of color who work for educational equity, racial justice and immigrant rights, passionately echoed these recommendations. Jake Cousins, Director of Communications and Development, highlighted the adverse effects on children of color as a result of increased physical security without addressing the importance of a positive environment in schools. Youth of color are more frequently arrested and referred to law enforcement than their white peers for the same behaviors. Last year, there were 3.6 times more arrests and tickets per black student than there were per white student, and there were 17 percent more arrests and tickets per Latinx student than there were per white student.

Together, the Children’s Campaign and Padres & Jóvenes Unidos made a compelling case for why the Division of Homeland Security should amend the School Security Disbursement Program rules to ensure that Colorado schools are aware of and able to use this significant state investment to implement effective training and mental health supports to promote safety and prevent future violence on school campuses.

Samantha Espinoza

About Samantha Espinoza

Sam joined the Colorado Children’s Campaign staff as a Policy Analyst after serving as their Government Affairs Intern while completing her MSW at the University of Denver. Her portfolio of policy issues includes child health, family planning and maternal and infant mental health. Sam is a military veteran whose greater part of professional experience is grounded in research, advocacy and supporting children who face adversity. Before moving to Denver to pursue her MSW, Sam graduated from Hawaii Pacific University with her bachelor’s degree in sociology and worked as a tutor, specializing in teaching students with behavioral challenges.