Keeping students and educators safe requires schools to be ready to prevent, intervene, and respond quickly to any given situation — a job that becomes increasingly complex when it involves 157 schools spread across 750 square miles.
John McDonald, executive director of Jeffco Schools Security & Emergency Management, relies on a number of tools to keep Jeffco students safe each and every day.
Here are five key tools Jeffco Schools uses to keep its 86,000 students safe:
Safety Tool 1: School Resource Officers (SROs)
Jeffco Schools partners with seven local law enforcement agencies to provide 33 armed School Resource Officers in Jeffco Schools. SROs are trained police officers and sheriff’s deputies from the local police and sheriff’s departments who work at the schools.
All SROs are trained to work with and mentor students, to offer guidance to staff about student behaviors, and to respond to any threat.
Each high school has one SRO, and most of Jeffco’s middle schools do, as well. SROs also work with elementary schools. Jeffco’s law enforcement agencies provide the SROs at no cost to the district, a gift McDonald estimates to be worth $4 million per year.
Safety Tool 2: Safe2Tell & Threat Assessment
Safe2Tell is a statewide Colorado program that allows students, parents, teachers, and the community to anonymously report concerns about their safety or the safety of others. Students report concerns through the mobile app, by phone at 1-877-542-7233, or on the website.
Suicide threats are the most common issue reported to Safe2Tell, with bullying in second place. In addition, McDonald said Safe2Tell has also seen a significant increase in the number of school threats reported recently.
When a threat is reported, the information goes to local law enforcement, the school principal, and Jeffco’s emergency dispatch center, McDonald said. His team also notifies the superintendent and his cabinet members about the threat.
Next, a threat assessment team works to identify the nature of the threat, possible suspects, and how to stop the threat, McDonald said. If a threat is received in the evening, the team works through the night to address the situation.
All reports are investigated, McDonald said.
“We know that if students are reporting it, it’s important enough for them to give us this information, it’s important enough for us to respond,” he said. “We respond with fidelity and we do it pretty aggressively.”
Statewide, Safe2Tell received 2,292 reports in February 2018, more than twice the 893 reports received in February 2017. In addition, the number of reports increased overall for 2017-18, with 9,866 reports through February.
In response, the district is adding a Director of Safe School Environments through a grant from the Jeffco Schools Innovation Acceleration Fund. The position is designed to develop programming to help students transition into middle and high school, and will target gaps between school safety, readiness for learning, and the social and emotional challenges.
Standley Lake High School Principal Jeff Pierson will fill the role, focusing on student safety and student engagement, and managing the Safe2Tell program in Jeffco.
Safety Tool 3: Standard Response Protocol
Each school in Jeffco uses the Standard Response Protocol for lockdowns, lockouts, and more. John Michael Keyes created the program to improve school safety after his daughter, Emily, was killed in the 2006 Platte Canyon High School shooting. Keyes gave the program to Jeffco for free, and Jeffco Schools was the first district in the country to implement it, McDonald said.
The Standard Response Protocol is currently used by 18,000 districts around the country, McDonald said.
Schools throughout Jeffco practice lockdown drills every year in an age-appropriate manner, and every school also has a trained FEMA response team in case of an emergency.
Safety Tool 4: Jeffco Schools Security Team
Jeffco’s security team also includes a 24/7 emergency dispatch center, campus security officers, campus supervisors, and a threat management staff. All are ready to respond to schools in need, any time of the day or night, year-round.
The security team also relies on information from approximately 2,000 cameras used to monitor district schools, McDonald said.
Safety Tool 5: Frank DeAngelis Center for Community Safety
One of the newest tools is the Frank DeAngelis Center for Community Safety, a school security training facility. Housed in the former Martensen Elementary School, the center provides a place for law enforcement, first responders, and school security personnel to train for active shooter situations.
The center allows local law enforcement to train at no cost, and has hosted more than 5,000 law enforcement officers from 44 agencies around the country since it opened.
Next steps: School Safety & Security Task Force
Jeffco Schools is also in the process of establishing a School Safety & Security Task Force that will examine the district’s current security policies and procedures. McDonald said the task force and the feedback received from the March School Safety Forum will help inform future security decisions in the district.