Elected officials from Douglas County and the Douglas County School District met to discuss specifics surrounding school safety following the May 7 shooting at STEM School Highlands Ranch that left one student dead and eight others injured.
The discussion — held during a May 23 study session at the district's administration building in Castle Rock — came on the heels of a May 13 special work session, when the board of county commissioners discussed allocating $10 million to heighten school safety in Douglas County.
In addition to the one-time $10 million for mental health resources and school security, county commissioners proposed to members of the board of education the formation of two oversight committees — one focused on safety and protection, the other on mental health — and $3 million in annual, ongoing funds to support an additional 16 school resource officers for public, charter and private schools in Douglas County. The school district would be required to fund a 50 percent annual match, as it normally does for SROs.
“Your statutory ownership of school safety and security, paired with our history of support, leads us to believe that this is a reasonable approach and hope you will consider the opportunity we put before you today,” Commissioner Abe Laydon said to board members and DCSD administrators, including Superintendent Thomas Tucker, assistant Superintendent Ted Knight and Chief Financial Officer Scott Smith.
The decision to dedicate additional funding to school safety was scheduled to be formally considered at a May 28 board of county commissioners meeting starting at 2:30 p.m. in the Commissioners' Hearing Room, 100 Third St., Castle Rock.
While school board members expressed appreciation for the commissioners' proposal, they also raised concerns. Above all, there needs to be a common vision, school board President David Ray said.
“My hope would be that as community leaders we would work with experts to get a clear vision of what is safety in schools,” Ray said.
The May 23 study session kicked off with a roundtable discussion among DCSD school board members and administrators on school safety.
In the past five years, the district has doubled its funding for security and mental health resources, according to Smith. In the 2011-12 school year, $2.3 million was spent on security, whereas next year $5.7 million is budgeted. The mental health department, which four years ago had 200 employees and $16 million in funding, will see 370 employees and $31.5 million next year.
School board members agreed that mental health is a top priority. Options weighed were implementing one universal mental health program versus allowing each school to implement a program of its choice. Sources of Strength, a suicide-prevention program, was used as an example.
“I don't believe systemically we even have a shared definition of bullying,” said Sid Rundle, principal of Cresthill Middle School in Highlands Ranch.
Knight pointed out that implementing new programs means more resources and costs. Another cost-prohibitive option is SROs, which board members agree are an effective tool because of the positive relationships formed with students.
Less-favored options were target hardening, such as installing metal detectors and hiring armed personnel, which is currently against district policy. Staff members raised the question of the appearance of safety versus actual safety.
Knight said using metal detectors would be similar to “going through an airport.” To be effective, they would have to be manned at all times and all other entryways to a building would have to be secured.
Mental health leaders in the district agreed that hiring armed personnel would be detrimental to students' mental wellbeing.
“From a psychological point of view, I can see it being very traumatic for young students to see multiple people in their buildings that they don't know carrying guns,” Stephanie Crawford-Goetz, mental health director, said.
The goal of the study session was to brainstorm how the district could enhance, improve and build on what it has in place. Board members agree that planning for improved school safety and security requires “thoughtful deliberation.”
“We are running a marathon,” Ray said. “Not a race.”
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