A month has passed since the tragic event at STEM School Highlands Ranch, which will forever change our community. I continue to be touched by the outpouring of support and love as we work to support our students – both those who attend STEM as well as those attending all DCSD schools. The way our community has come together is a true indicator of our unity of purpose — the 68,000 students who attend Douglas County Schools.
Over the past few weeks we have received numerous phone calls, emails and public comments from parents and community members who are understandably afraid, angry and hurting. Many want reassurance that their children will be safe in their schools when they start the 2019-20 school year. As a father and a grandfather, I understand these emotions. We are working through incredible heartache that will take many days, weeks, months and, perhaps, years to recover.
Thanks to those of you who have provided us with input about how best to keep our students safe. I want you to know we are listening to your feedback and will refer to it as we look to build upon our current, comprehensive safety plan.
In addition to the research-based security protocols being implemented in our schools, I want to outline several steps DCSD is taking for additional security measures. These security enhancements have already been in the works thanks to additional funding made possible by the passage of a $40 million mill levy override and $250 million bond this past November. Please understand that we cannot publicly disclose every detail of our security initiatives in order to protect them from being compromised. At the same time, we recognize the need to provide reassurances that immediate actions for improvements are taking place.
Mental health and prevention
Funding from the mill levy override is enabling us to provide additional counselors to schools to meet the social and emotional needs of our students. Eighty-five additional counselors will be in place in DCSD’s district-run schools by the beginning of the 2019-20 school year. Each of our elementary schools will now have a counselor.
In addition, the ratio of counselor-to-student in the middle and high schools will significantly improve from one counselor per 350 students to one counselor per 250 students. All counselors are licensed by the Colorado Department of Education. In order to receive that license, individuals must have a master’s degree in school counseling. The majority of that coursework is mental health-based. Increasing the accessibility to mental health providers will result in building strong relationships with all students during their school career.
Physical safety and security
All schools fully implement the Standard Response Protocol (SRP), which provides students, staff and first responders with common language and procedures for emergency situations.
Funding from the bond further enhances physical security in each one of our school buildings — including neighborhood and charter schools. For example, during the 2018-19 school year, each school (neighborhood and charter) was provided with new digital, two-way radios that directly communicate to law enforcement and our security dispatch center in the event of an emergency. It was through these radios that law enforcement received its first emergency call from STEM enabling them to be on site in minutes.
Improvements also include upgrading building cameras, tightening access points to our buildings, along with other physical security enhancements to harden our schools. DCSD continuously provides our school staff and students with training and drills related to school safety. And, we continue to offer our students, staff and families access to Safe2Tell and Text-a-Tip, where suspicious behavior, threats, or other concerns can be anonymously reported.
One of the first actions DCSD’s current Board of Education took nearly two years ago was to reactivate the district’s Safety Committee. Members include law enforcement partners, community members, parents, teachers, principals, Board of Education directors and experts in the field of mental health, physical safety and security. The committee meets monthly to review DCSD’s current safety and security procedures and recommends revisions and enhancements on an ongoing basis.
The safety of each and every one of our 68,000 students is a priority for Douglas County School District. We will continue to work with our law enforcement partners, security experts, community members, families and others to ensure that implementation of a comprehensive safety and security plan is always evolving. We know that keeping students safe is a community effort, and we are grateful for the feedback, ideas and for all of the incredible support during these difficult weeks.
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