According to the most recent school calendars, our children will spend 49 percent of the year in school. As parents, we must send our kids off five days a week, entrusting them to the care of teachers and other school staff. That’s an enormous responsibility. Beside the regular hazards, such as falls, weather, sport-related injuries, that our kids will encounter no matter where they are, our children will likely face all kind of dangers unique to the campus environment. We took a look into several Denver metro area school districts and their safety policies to find out what measures are being taken to keep our most precious resources safe when we’re not around.
Keeping our kids safe includes recognizing the threats, and then deciding the best ways to stop them. Some of the school districts we examined were Adams-Arapahoe 28J, Adams County 14, Cherry Creek 5, Denver County 1, Sheridan No.1, Sheridan County 2, Mapleton 1, Westminster 50 and Jefferson County R-1. Every district has a website that includes either specific links to safety information or pamphlets that can be downloaded, which include safety protocols. Some of the websites are easier to navigate than others. If you’re having trouble finding what you need, the easiest thing to do is call a main line and ask for help. When researching your district’s safety plans, make sure you have plenty of time. There is a lot of information and it is not a light read.
Post Columbine Safety Measures
Most school districts share similar safety concerns and policies to deal with them. Many of these came to fruition in the wake of the Columbine High School shooting in 1999 that left 14 students and one teacher dead and 21 people injured. One program created in the aftermath of Columbine was Safe2Tell Colorado. The Safe2Tell initiative was founded on the idea that early intervention can save lives. Whether using the hotline or Safe2Tell app, anyone can report something that concerns or threatens them, and remain anonymous. From there, law enforcement, school staff and response teams follow up on all tips received.
Another safety measure to become common practice was to secure all main entrance ways. Cyndi Wright, who has performed the role of Chief Operations officer at Sheridan School District 2 for 25 years, remembers that being one of the first changes in school security after the Columbine shooting.
“Most schools have created a place where they come to check in as they enter the building because that’s a huge concern,” said Wright. “Another concern is the doors being able to lock when they need to be locked and unlocked when they need to be unlocked.”
Video supervision with two-way communication was installed at all main entrances. These are monitored by office staff who communicate with all visitors before electronically unlocking the door. In more recent years this has been upgraded with the Raptor ID system. Raptor is a visitor management system that scans a driver’s license or state ID and checks the information against the National Sex Offender database. If no match is found, the system prints a sticker with a picture identifying them as an approved visitor.
There are also practices that have been around for years that are still implemented today. School staff is expected to run drills every year for extreme weather conditions and fires. Fire Departments work with schools practicing fire drills and teach designated staff members first aid.
Newer Safety Rules
On the other side of the coin, cell phones and social media have sparked new rules over the last 10 years. Beside the lunch-money stealing bully, kids today have to deal with cyberbullying. Not to be taken lightly, cyberbullying has been shown to cause depression, anxiety and even suicide. With most kids owning cell phones now, the growing popularity of sexting among kids under the age of 18 has resulted in specific Colorado laws and consequences in 2017.
One of the ways to stop cyberbullying and sexting is for the kids to report these actions. This becomes easier when kids feel they have an adult they can trust. Anthony Johnson conducted campus security for five years at schools like Centaurus High school in Lafayette, Niwot High school in Niwot and Main Street School in Longmont.
“The biggest thing to me was building the relationships with the kids,” Johnson said. “My building relationships was all about showing love and respect. I would sit down and talk to them. If I saw they were struggling with something, I would listen to them and try to help them get through whatever they were experiencing.”
Johnson said sometimes he would encourage students to speak with the school counselor, but sometimes they just wanted him to listen.
Know Who to Trust
Most schools have security officers that walk the hallways as well as circling the perimeter of campus grounds. Many security officers feel it’s important that students see them daily and feel comfortable talking to them. Students are more likely to report a threat if they know an adult they feel they can trust.
All districts have working relationships with the police department of their county. In a world where school shootings have become far too common, these relationships are vital. Officers and school staff have to be on the same page if disaster strikes. In addition to fire drills, schools now practice Lockdown and Lockout drills, which were created as a result of school shootings. A Lockout takes place when conditions outside the school are dangerous. Exterior doors are locked and no one is allowed in or out. A Lockdown happens when conditions are too dangerous to allow movement within the building. Interior doors are locked; classroom lights are turned off, and everyone inside must hide and keep silent.
Wright said that when a school has a real Lockdown or Lockout situation, it’s important that parents are getting true and accurate information from reliable sources.
“We’ve seen a number of instances where parents think they’re getting the right information,” said Wright. ”They’re going through reunification and they’re given the wrong site because either the media has gotten involved too soon, or kids are sending it out and it’s not accurate and true information.”
Melissa Craven, who has worked with the Department of Safety for seven years, points out that despite what is seen in the media, schools are becoming safer as best practices in emergency management and safety continually evolve.
“Our safety team is nationally recognized for its work,” Craven explains. “Realize over 50,000,000 children attend a public school every day and return home safely.”
“As parents, we have a responsibility to talk to our kids about safety and why it’s so important,” she added. As a mother of two school age children, she understands school safety can be a scary topic.
“I would rather my children know what to do and be frightened than have no idea how to respond and still be frightened,” said Craven. “Our school staff is well trained in how to keep students safe. It’s important for students to listen to their teachers and carefully follow their instructions.” If parents want more information or want to get involved, they are encouraged to visit school websites and work with their principals regarding school safety. Safe2Tell Colorado and the I Love You Guys website are also informative safety and assistance resources.