May 26, 2022 - News

How Colorado is keeping kids safe from school shootings

Security cars outside a Denver Public Schools campus in 2016. Photo: Katie Wood/The Denver Post via Getty Images

Denver Public Schools and districts across the state are increasing security for the final weeks of the academic year following the latest mass shooting in a classroom.

Why it matters: Tuesday's killing of 19 students and 2 teachers in Uvalde, Texas, resurfaced all-too-familiar fears in Colorado about the safety of our children, fears born from our wrenching memories of young lives cut short at Columbine, Arapahoe and STEM.

Threat level: The silver lining from our deep experience with mass shootings is a heightened emphasis on violence prevention, says Christine Harms, director of the state's ​​School Safety Resource Center.

  • Just about every district in the state deploys a threat assessment team to identify at-risk students, and $30 million went toward hardening schools in recent years.

What's new: In March, the center released crisis response guidelines crafted by school security experts, mental health providers and first responders to help local schools better prepare for major emergencies — a first-of-its-kind document, officials believe.

  • The plan advises administrators to update crisis operation plans annually; form a safety team to oversee logistics, psychological triage and mental health support; and conduct training drills regularly.
  • Another critical component of preparation, per the report, is developing a communication plan with emergency responders, staff, students and families.

What they're saying: "I think Colorado has some of the safest schools in the country but nobody can guarantee that this kind of thing can't happen again, unfortunately," Harms tells us.

Yes, but: More resources are necessary, officials say. In 2018, school officials requested $60 million in security upgrades, but the state only provided enough money to meet half the demand.

  • Another $6 million is earmarked in a bill signed Monday by Gov. Jared Polis, but it still won't hit the requested number, officials said.

Details: Some of the most vulnerable schools are located in rural areas, not unlike Robb Elementary in Texas. And of the 178 school districts in Colorado, 146 are rural.

  • Many rural schools lack the security infrastructure — cameras and classroom door locks — to protect students and the mental health resources to intervene, Harms says.

Of note: A spokesperson for Denver Public Schools declined to answer questions from Axios Denver about what it's doing to protect students, but said the district has policies in place.


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