Douglas County awards millions for school safety

Majority of funding awarded to public schools for physical safety

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Roughly six months after a school shooting rocked the Douglas County community, county officials and educators gathered to announce new safety measures they plan to fund in local schools.

County Commissioners Roger Partridge, Lora Thomas and Abe Laydon in May offered $13.3 million in response to a May 7 shooting at STEM School Highlands Ranch. The shooting left Kendrick Castillo, 18, dead and eight more students injured.

Some of the funding will be ongoing, but most, $10 million, comes in one-time dollars. The county allowed public, charter and private schools to apply for the one-time grant dollars to boost the physical security of buildings and mental health programming.

A Nov. 21 announcement revealed nearly all of the $10 million will go toward the physical security of schools and that public schools will receive a majority the funds. What's not known is the dollar amount awarded to each applicant, and how or when they will receive the grants.

Commissioners said the STEM tragedy compelled them to take action in protecting community members and believe it isn't the role of law enforcement and educators alone to keep students safe. Thomas said they hoped to put “partisan politics aside, to unite in the best possible way, to meet this ever-growing challenge to protect our most precious thing, our children.”

As for the one-time dollars, commissioners are awarding $9 million to schools for expenses like communication resources, training, access control and enhanced building security. The county granted money to every school that requested physical safety funding, according to a presentation from commissioners.

Slightly less than a million, $990,000, will fund mental health and social-emotional learning. All requests in this category were approved, commissioners said.

Mental health and social-emotional learning resources include: school climate and culture assessments; social emotional learning curriculum; suicide prevention and intervention; mental health support and intervention; and mental health first aid and training.

More than three-quarters of the funding was awarded to the Douglas County School District, according to the presentation. The district applied on behalf of all its schools. Fifteen of the county's charter schools are receiving 17% of the funds, while private schools were granted 4%.

The Douglas County School District comprises 91 schools, including 20 charter schools. Fifteen charter schools applied independently of the district with specific requests, although they are also represented in the district's application. Eight private schools sought county funding.

The district represents 48 elementary schools, nine middle schools, nine high schools and five alternative schools.

Of ongoing funds, $331,000 was dedicated to the establishment of a youth-focused community response team, which pairs a mental health clinician and law enforcement officer with a case manager to handle calls concerning youths with a mental health need.

The team launched on Nov. 18 and is piloting in Douglas County High School and Highlands Ranch schools. Since its launch, the team has responded to seven calls. The county believes the Youth CRT is the first of its kind in the nation, Thomas said.

“We are proud to pioneer this important service to our county,” Thomas said.

The county already operates community response teams, known in some communities as co-responder teams, but this is the first team dedicated to serving county youths.

Another $3 million helped to more than double the number of school resource officers provided by the Douglas County Sheriff's Office in local schools, from 11 in the 2018-19 school year to 26 in 2019-20. That does not include SROs provided by municipal police departments.

The commissioners' announcement came as the STEM shooting was top of mind for victims and community members touched by the tragedy. A weeklong hearing for one of the two suspects was wrapping up its fourth day as the commissioners updated the community.

Partridge opened the evening with a moment of silence for Kendrick Castillo and grew emotional explaining Kendrick's parents, John and Maria Castillo, could not attend because of the hearings.

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