The Children’s Campaign’s commitment to school safety
Schools should be safe places for young people, educators, school staff, and community members. Unfortunately, Colorado communities were forced again this spring to confront gun violence happening in and around schools. In March, a 17-year-old student shot and wounded two school administrators at East High School in Denver, and later died from a self-inflicted gunshot wound off of school grounds. This came a month after another East High student was fatally shot while sitting in his car outside the school.
These tragic incidents – and too many that have preceded them in Colorado and beyond – have understandably prompted calls for immediate action to protect students.
We know that policies and practices can help create safe, positive learning environments where kids thrive. But which policies contribute most to these safe environments is often a topic of debate.
Following a 2019 shooting at STEM High School in Douglas County in which one student was killed and many more were injured, the Children’s Campaign compiled research on strategies to create safe schools. We presented our findings to the School Safety Legislative Interim Committee. Four years on, it’s more important than ever that policy conversations about school safety are grounded in data and strong evidence.
To meet that need, we have updated and re-published our school safety brief to reflect the most recent research available about the factors that contribute the most to safe school environments.
School safety is complex. It can encompass school culture, mental health, community violence, social media, threat assessment, and so many other factors. In this brief, we limit our focus to freedom from bodily harm in a school setting.
We share what is known about the prevalence of many types of violence in schools, and detail the prevention strategies and protective factors that have delivered promising results in preventing youth violence – things like in-school mental health services, positive school climate, and evidence-based threat assessment practices. We examine research on the effectiveness of school resource officers, intensified security measures, and arming staff in K-12 schools. Some of these strategies that are publicly debated in the wake of school shootings have little or no evidence base, or have mixed and often concerning results, especially for students of color. We touch on the relationship between gun policy and mass shootings broadly, though school shootings are still difficult for researchers to study since they are rare on a population level. Finally, the brief details what is being done in Colorado to bolster school safety, and where there may be opportunities to do more.
Advocates and policymakers are motivated to take action, and there will be opportunities for community members to engage. Recent legislation established the Colorado Interagency Working Group on School Safety to study and implement recommendations regarding school safety, identify shared metrics, and examine program effectiveness. Separate from that effort, the Public Education & Business Coalition (PEBC) and Confluence Public Strategy Group recently launched the Colorado Safer Schools Initiative, which will bring together students, educators, counselors, government officials, mental health experts, law enforcement, security experts, and community leaders to unravel difficult issues and develop actionable system-level recommendations to improve school safety and climate.
There are no easy answers, and many of the strategies that hold the most promise will require long-term investment. The Children’s Campaign will continue to follow developments in school safety research and urge policymakers to prioritize keeping our children safe in school.
More on school safety:
- The West Steps: What does research tell us about how to create safe schools? (2023)
- The West Steps: Centering school climate in K-12 education (2022)
- House Bill 22-1376: Supportive Learning Environments for K-12 Students (2022)
- Interim legislative hearings examine school safety as new funds flow to resource centers (2019)
- School safety dollars should support mental health, positive behavior support (2018)
- School safety: What is being done in Colorado? (2018)