School safety: What is being done in Colorado?
In the wake of recent school shootings around the nation, Colorado advocates and lawmakers have dedicated increased attention to ensuring kids are safe at school. During the past few weeks, Gov. John Hickenlooper has signed several bills (listed below) creating grant programs aimed at making schools safer. Concerned communities have also held forums, and youth organizers have shared their concerns in a collective effort to better understand what works in addressing school safety.
Recently, members of the Children’s Campaign joined students from Skinner Middle School and other panelists in a forum to address this topic. The forum was organized by eighth graders Ada Y., Lilly L. and Rachel Z., who also led their school’s March for Our Lives walkout earlier this year. Forum attendees asked questions about the biggest barriers to school safety, as well as what advocates can do to ensure Colorado’s schools are safe for all students. The information below seeks to address these questions by providing a summary of research on the effectiveness of strategies to address school safety and suggested action steps for advocates.
What the Research Says About School Safety
School shooting events are rare on a population level, and research on school shootings is limited. However, organizations like Everytown for Gun Safety and others have recently started tracking incidents of gunfire on school grounds.
Despite the limited research on school shootings, there is a large body of research on the risk and protective factors associated with the broader topic of youth violence in schools—both at the individual and social levels. Research shows that several indicators of school violence have decreased significantly at the national level since the early 1990s.
For the individual student, risk factors for participating in school violence include high emotional stress, low academic performance, being a bully or the victim of bullying, and exposure to violence and anti-social attitudes. Factors that offset these experiences (often called protective factors) include positive social orientation and high educational aspirations.
At the peer level, low commitment to school, social rejection and a lack of involvement in activities are risk factors for violence, while protective factors include exposure to positive school climates and close relationships with peers.
Although the recent school shootings have prompted calls from some for more school resource officers (SROs) and intensified security measures such as metal detectors, research examining the effectiveness of these specific strategies is very limited and has found mixed results. Prevention strategies that have been shown to mitigate risk factors for school violence and strengthen the protective factors among young people include in-school mental health services and behavioral interventions, positive school climate work, positive behavior support, and the use of threat assessment processes. Click here to read our two-page summary of research on risk and protective factors for school violence and these preferred prevention strategies.
Colorado School Safety Legislation Passed in 2018
School Access to Interoperable Communication Technology: SB18-158 creates the School Access for Emergency Response Grant Program to provide funding for interoperable communication hardware, software, equipment maintenance, and training to allow for seamless communications between existing school communications systems and first responder communications systems.
School Security Disbursement Program: SB18-269 creates the School Security Disbursement Program to support school districts in enhancing school security, building improvements and training for school personnel. It directs the Department of Public Safety to distribute the funds, based on applications received, and collect reports from grant recipients detailing how grant funds were used.
Crisis and Suicide Prevention Training Grant Program: SB18-272 creates a $400,000 grant program for schools to provide crisis and suicide prevention training for staff. Also, it requires the Office of Suicide Prevention and the School Safety Resource Center to collaboratively create training guidelines and support schools with training implementation. Schools must apply for funds and those that have not yet provided such training will receive priority funding.
Create School Safety Grant Program: HB18-1413 seeks to enhance school safety by creating a grant program to fund research, program development and training. Nonprofit, tax-exempt organizations that have experience in school safety incident response training may request funding to conduct research, develop best practice protocols, and provide training. Funding may also be used to upgrade technology and infrastructure used for training related to school safety incident response.
Missed opportunities this session
Suicide Prevention Enhance Student Life Skills: SB18-114 would have encouraged school districts, public schools, and charter schools to develop and adopt a student suicide prevention policy and designate a staff person to serve as a student suicide prevention coordinator for the school.
Student Suicide Prevention Grant Program: HB18-1416 would have created a student suicide prevention grant program through the Colorado Department of Public Health and Environment for schools to develop and implement student suicide prevention policies and training programs.
Ways to get involved
Local opportunities: Apply to serve on the Colorado School Safety Resource Center’s Youth Advisory Board (for students only). Sign up for the Colorado School Safety Resource Center’s Newsletter and receive information about trainings and other workshops happening around the state. Encourage your friends and neighbors to download the Safe2Tell Colorado app and use it. Ask your friends and family if they are registered to vote. If they are not registered, direct them to the Secretary of State’s website for more information or click here for step-by step-registration guidance. The primaries are coming up in a few weeks and your vote is important.
State-level opportunities: Contact your elected officials and schedule a meeting with them. What matters to you should matter to your elected officials, because they are elected to serve as your voice in policy discussions. Ask for a meeting with your State Board of Education members or sign up for public comment during their monthly meetings (meeting times and agendas can be found here).
National opportunities: Join the efforts of survivors and other youth advocates by following the Peace Warriors in their national listening tour, or check out sites like HeadCount, a nonpartisan voting organization that is making sure folks have the opportunity to register to vote ahead of the primary elections. Follow the work of the U.S. Department of Education School Safety Commission organized by U.S. Education Secretary Betsy DeVos, and be sure to contact individuals that have been selected to work on the commission.