Additional security staffing, secure entrances top Safety Task Force recommendations

Staffing all middle and high school entry points with Jeffco security personnel, ensuring there is a School Resource Officer (SRO) at each middle and high school, adding campus supervisors to all middle schools, and increasing the number of qualified behavioral health specialists were top recommendations presented by the Safety Task Force at the Jeffco School Board’s Oct. 4 meeting.

“I’m pretty passionate about school safety, as most of you know,” said Executive Director of Safety and Security John McDonald. “I’m surrounded tonight by advocates from the community who are just as passionate as I am.”

“They’re also demanding. They’re bold, they’re engaged. They’re unapologetic,” he added before the task force members presented their recommendations.

Task force members presented a number of prioritized recommendations to improve the safety of Jeffco’s students and schools.

Safety Task Force created after School Safety Forum

The Safety Task Force was created to engage the community about future plans for safety and security. It followed the March 20 Jeffco Schools Safety Forum.

Fifty task force members were chosen from all parts of Jeffco with a variety of backgrounds:  law enforcement, mental and behavioral health, educators, principals, parents, guardians, caregivers, and interested community members. The task force began meeting in June.

Members were split into four subcommittees related to a national school safety framework:

  • climate and culture
  • threat assessment and management
  • target hardening/physical security
  • tactics and response

Task Force recommendations

Members of the four task force subcommittees presented the top recommendations at the board meeting on October 4.

“The work that this task force has done not only takes into consideration the best practices of today, but they look to the future,” McDonald said. “The work that they have done I really believe will help sustain us for the next decade.”

Climate and Culture

The climate and culture subcommittee presented 15 recommendations intended to move Jeffco toward being more proactive rather than reactive.

Members Karen Tonso and Shawna Fritzler told the school board that their top recommendation is to increase the number of school psychologists or social workers in every school to meet or exceed the national standards.

Fritzler added that Jeffco is known to be the “gold standard in school safety.” Likewise, the subcommittee’s vision is for Jeffco to become the gold standard in behavioral health standards for students, Fritzler said.

The subcommittee also recommended increasing the number of counselors in every school to meet or exceed national standards.

In addition, they recommended that the district fund these positions through the general fund. Currently, schools use school based budgeting (SBB) dollars to purchase additional mental health support.

Threat Assessment and Management

More mental health support, especially for elementary schools, was also the top recommendation of the threat assessment subcommittee. The committee emphasized support in elementary schools to ensure “consistency and continuity in monitoring concerns and providing intervention and support,” explained Lisa Cook.

Cook noted that 42 schools utilized SBB dollars for the 2017-18 school year to provide full-time mental health support. This year, that number grew to 66 schools —  about two-thirds of Jeffco elementary schools.

In addition, since school started in August, Jeffco has done 196 threat assessments, held 10 threat assessment management meetings, and done 8 district-level threat assessments, she said.

The number of Safe2Tell tips has also risen consistently — from 584 tips in 2014-15 to 1,825 tips in 2017-18.

Their second recommendation involved the creation of a Q & A page about threat assessment on the Jeffco Schools website. Recommended questions include:

  • What is the process of threat assessment at each level?
  • What behaviors should I watch for and be concerned about?
  • What behaviors should I report?
  • What happens to the child I report on?

Heilit Biehl presented three other recommendations, including one to implement additional communication from schools to families about reporting concerns. Another suggestion was to facilitate additional communication between SROs, local law enforcement and the district. The group’s final recommendation focused on ensuring consistency in school-level threat reporting, Biehl said.

Tactics and Response

Jason Thompson told board members that his subcommittee’s three recommendations centered around additional staffing, additional training for staff, and improved access to schools for law enforcement.

Their top recommendation is for Jeffco to provide a campus supervisor in every middle school by the 2019-20 school year. This recommendation also included adding one more armed campus supervisor at each high school.

This subcommittee also recommended providing a SRO at each middle and high school in Jeffco. Thompson said this is common practice at neighboring districts. SROs were added to four middle schools this year, but not every middle school has one, McDonald said.

Another recommendation was to provide additional training for educators and staff, including mandatory training three times a year on the Standard Response Protocol (SRPs). In addition, they recommended conducting lockdown drills twice a year.

The subcommittee also recommended TASER training for armed Jeffco security officers to allow them to intervene from a distance without having to get physically involved or use lethal force.

Thompson said they also made recommendations to improve law enforcement access to school buildings. Recommended improvements included adding door alarms and interior door locks, ensuring law enforcement has current building maps and easy access to keys, and a secure entryway for every building.

Finally, the subcommittee recommended the district do an in-depth study of programs where non-security school staff are armed to determine if such a program might be appropriate for Jeffco.

Target Hardening and Physical Security

Recommendations from the target hardening subcommittee focused primarily on improving protection near entrances.

The subcommittee recommended adding campus security to all middle schools and adjusting coverage at the high school level to provide no less than three campus supervisors at any high school, Kristy Dobrowski told board members.

Construction improvements were also recommended, including more secure entry vestibules and 3M safety film on windows that could provide easy access to the building, such as the main entrance. Other recommendations included exterior door alarms and bollards to protect students in high-traffic walkways near buildings.

The subcommittee also recommended removing temporary classrooms as soon as possible, and upgrading physical security in all temporary classrooms currently in use.

Dobrowski told board members the subcommittee recommended upgrading security cameras and increasing the number of security cameras. While the subcommittee noted that specific numbers of cameras would vary depending on the building, they recommended 12 at the elementary, 24 at the middle and 60 at the high school level, all monitored by trained staff.

The subcommittee’s other recommendations pertained to safety reviews and audits to identify vulnerabilities and efficient ways to increase safety. They recommended moving major safety budgetary items under the management of the Department of School Safety.

They also recommended staged mass trauma kits as well as interior door locks for every classroom.

“Simply put, it should not be hard to lock a door in an emergency,” Dobrowski said.

School board members weigh in

Brad Rupert asked how district safety would address a one-on-one threat inside a locked classroom. Tim Read, a member of the Tactics and Response subcommittee and a sergeant with the Westminster Police Department, said the goal is to mitigate and isolate the threat and limit damage. In such a situation, a lock down would be conducted and systematically “unwound” to address the threat, he said.

Read was also asked about his perspective on safety from a law enforcement perspective.

“Access to the schools is a roadblock right now, but we can improve that,” he said. “One strategy doesn’t fit every building,” he added, but knowledge of and access to keys is important.

Ali Lasell asked whether Jeffco conducts any general monitoring of student social media. McDonald said his department is looking into emerging technologies. Biehl also noted that Denver Public Schools uses Gaggle to monitor student social media activity.

Jeffco’s Department of School Safety includes a control team, emergency dispatch center, threat assessment program, Director of Safe School Environments and campus safety, McDonald said.

The Jeffco School Board will hear more information about safety and security at their upcoming study session on Wednesday, Oct. 10. Jeffco will release the Safety Task Force’s written recommendations on Oct. 19., along with a three-stage implementation plan for the recommendations.

Tina Gurdikian

Tina Gurdikian

Tina Gurdikian has been a Jeffco resident since 2008, and is the parent of two Jeffco Schools students. She has a BS in Environmental Analysis and Planning with a minor in Biology. In her not-so-spare time, she enjoys fostering dogs, scuba diving, backpacking, hiking, biking, and kayaking with her family. Please visit our "About Us" page to learn more about Tina and our other writers.