The Children’s Campaign’s commitment to school safety

Written by: Leslie Colwell
Date Posted: June 8, 2023

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:

Leslie Colwell

About Leslie Colwell

Leslie Colwell serves as the Vice President of K-12 Education Initiatives, leading the Campaign’s work to improve education in the state of Colorado. Before joining the Children’s Campaign in August of 2014, Leslie worked to facilitate partnerships and produce policy agreements, especially in the area of education as an Associate at the Keystone Center. Her professional experience includes working as Legislative Director for State Senator Mike Johnston, managing his education policy portfolio (including his office’s work on HB12-1238, Colorado’s READ Act, and SB13-033, ASSET), and directing a policy fellowship for educators for three summers. Leslie has also worked on Teach For America’s alumni team, and before that taught 6th grade Math and Earth Science as a TFA corps member at Mary McLeod Bethune Middle School in Los Angeles. She currently serves on the board of the Colorado Latino Leadership, Advocacy & Research Organization (CLLARO) and on the steering committee of the Colorado Afterschool Partnership.