School safety committees make progress

Douglas County commissioners are set to receive recommendation by mid-July

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How the Douglas County Board of Education and the Douglas County Board of Commissioners will work together on school safety initiatives in the coming weeks remains unknown, leaders say.

“Until a proposal is made, I really can’t predict the (school board’s) response,” David Ray, president of the board of education, said in an email correspondence. “As has been previously stated, our desire is to maintain a focus on a comprehensive research-based approach for safe schools, as opposed to implementing random strategies that may be ineffective.”

Time is of the essence for two committees appointed by the board of county commissioners. The committees are charged with making recommendations to the commissioners on how to spend a one-time gift of $10 million for safety initiatives in all Douglas County schools, including charter and private schools. For most Douglas County students, school starts on Aug. 7.

The Physical School Safety & Protection Funding Committee aims to have recommendations in by July 14. The Supportive Mental Health for Students Funding Committee also is working toward a mid-July deadline.

Both committees have one or more Douglas County School District representatives, but the board of county commissioners has authority over how the $10 million is spent.

“This week the BOCC sent a letter to all schools in Douglas County explaining they are eligible to request funding for school safety and mental health resources, via a process that is being finalized,” County Commissioner and Board Chairman Roger Partridge said on behalf of the board of commissioners. “We look forward to receiving each committee’s recommendations and are deeply grateful for the tremendous time commitment of committee appointees for their hard work that we know will lead to great outcomes for children and their families.”

On May 28, three weeks after a school shooting at STEM School Highlands Ranch that left one student dead and eight others injured, Douglas County commissioners voted to allocate the one-time gift of $10 million, along with an ongoing $3 million to fund 61 school resource officers in the county by the 2021-22 school year, contingent on a $3 million annual match from schools in the county.

The public is encouraged to provide feedback to the committees. Public comment forms, along with meeting times and agendas, are available at https://bit.ly/2ZqF4Fn.

Physical safety committee

The Physical School Safety & Protection Funding Committee, a mix of law enforcement, school district representatives, parents and security experts, made progress at its second public meeting June 24 at the sheriff’s substation in Highlands Ranch, 9250 Zotos Drive.

The week prior, members visited neighborhood schools and a charter school, as well as DCSD’s Dispatch Communication Center in Castle Rock.

Common themes that emerged at the meeting were implementing a districtwide closed campus policy, using weapon-detecting technology, training students and staff on better situational awareness, securing buildings’ entryways and utilizing volunteers.

“The goal is to never have the bad guy on campus,” said Clint Dorris, chairman of the Physical School Safety and Protection Funding Committee.

A closed campus policy would prohibit students from leaving campus during lunch or any other time during the school day. Currently, DCSD’s high schools have open campuses for students in 10th through 12th grades.

Ray pointed out that the district had a closed campus policy for high schools years ago.

Speaking for himself, Ray said he sees some “ripple effects” that would need to be considered if the district were to move in that direction, including the need to change master schedules to minimize open periods, the need for more staffing, increased traffic issues since the entire student body would be coming and leaving school at the same time, and “the counter effect of promoting student independence and responsibility for time management.”

“In addition, there would be a negative impact on local businesses who benefit from students eating lunch off campus,” Ray said by email. “We would definitely want to hear from our students before considering this change in practice.”

Mental health committee

The Supportive Mental Health for Students Funding Committee, made up of leaders in mental health, education and the criminal justice system, held its second public meeting on June 28 at the Douglas County Department of Human Services building in Castle Rock.

Members kicked off the meeting with an announcement that they would be working with the University of Colorado Boulder Center for the Study and Prevention of Violence, followed by a presentation on trends specific to Douglas County, including the student-to-mental health professional ratio.

DCSD’s counselor-to-student ratio is 1 to 655, compared to the national recommendation of 1 to 250. The district is in the process of hiring 80 additional counselors using money from a $40 million mill levy override passed by voters in November.

The students feel the divide, said Mia Hayden, a senior at ThunderRidge High School and co-founder of Oasis Mental Health, a nonprofit organization promoting mental health in schools. Hayden is a student representative on the committee.

“The biggest thing is that many students don’t know where to begin,” Hayden said.

Stephanie Crawford-Goetz, DCSD’s director of mental health, briefed the committee on current resources the district utilizes, including Sources of Strength, a suicide-prevention program used in most high schools, and Resilient Me, a wellness program for elementary schools. Targeted and intensive intervention efforts include the use of crisis teams and safety assessments.

“I think choice is good, but at this point we really do have our 91 schools doing 91 different things,” Crawford-Goetz said. “And I would really like to have some consistency.”

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