Five Prongs to Districtwide Safety

by Richard J. Veech, consultant for school safety, Jefferson County Schools, Golden,Colo., and Marilyn Saltzman, former manager of communications services, Jefferson County Schools, Golde, Colo.

When tragedy struck our district at Columbine High School, we took a fresh look at our overall school safety program. We formed a broad-based citizens’ task force and began looking at districtwide safety in a systemic and systematic way.

The result was a five-pronged approach to school safety that included a focus on academic excellence, prevention, intervention, partnerships and crisis response. Each component was then embedded in our district strategic plan.

The five components form a comprehensive approach to school safety. We focus here primarily on two aspectsprevention and intervention.

Prevention Measures
Each of our 145 schools is required to implement at least one district-approved, research-based prevention program. School teams’ choices include Bully Prevention, Mentors in Violence Prevention, Second Step Violence Prevention, Project PAVE (Promoting Alternatives to Violence through Education), Character Counts!, and Restorative Justice and Program for Young Negotiators.

Secondly, students work with their teachers to establish classroom norms regarding respectful environments. Teachers annually review the district’s conduct code, which includes a strong anti-harassment policy that has been used as a national model. The policy requires a student charged with harassment to meet with his or her parents and the principal. The student may be asked to participate in counseling and is subject to disciplinary action, including suspension or expulsion.

We also strive to create a school culture where students are responsible for reporting threats to appropriate school personnel. The Colorado Safe Schools Hotline was initiated through the efforts of our governor, a local congressman and several governmental and private organizations. We encourage use of this toll-free, 24-hours-a-day, seven-days-a-week hotline and we ask students and parents to report any safety concerns directly to the school.

Every site has a school safety team that meets regularly to identify at-risk students and suggest interventions. The goal is for every student to have a meaningful relationship with at least one adult to provide guidance, support and direction.

In addition to the social and emotional aspects of prevention, Jefferson County has attended to physical measures, including alarm systems and security lighting and gates. Every classroom has a telephone, and school offices have a “red phone” for emergency communications. Limiting daytime access to one main entrance, combined with visitor check-in procedures, also keeps our buildings more secure. We have tested keyless after-hour entries and plan to expand our use of this system as funding permits.

Campus supervisors and uniformed school resource officers are assigned to secondary schools, where they help teachers and administrators with student disciplinary matters and law enforcement.

Intervention Strategies
Jeffco also implemented an integrated and comprehensive intervention program. The components of this program are based on early identification and problem solving. We’ve established several programs to help at-risk youth, such as the Johnson Center, a joint project with law enforcement that serves students who have been in legal trouble. Alternative school programs, such as McLain and Long View high schools, provide work-study options to students who are not succeeding in their neighborhood schools.

Each school has established a risk assessment team trained to identify at-risk students based on such factors as individual, school, family and social dynamics. A district-level risk assessment team is available to consult with the school-based teams. Each school also has a crisis response team, and a districtwide team of mental health professionals is on call to help any school.

All Jefferson County students are eligible to become involved in appropriate aspects of this intervention component once a need has been identified. If students have been removed from the school environment for safety reasons, they are eligible to return to their neighborhood school if the concerns have been remediated and a school reintegration plan has been developed.

Additional Components
The three other facets of our comprehensive program deal with academics, external partnerships and crisis readiness.

* Academic excellence: Student achievement is the cornerstone of our safety plan. We are guided by our mission, “To provide a quality education that prepares all children for a successful future,” and our strategic plan, which sets measurable student achievement goals as well as goals for positive school environments.

* Partnerships: The school district has 730 business partnerships, including a number of relationships with law enforcement and emergency response agencies. Ongoing communication with law enforcement allows us to share information about students who might be demonstrating at-risk behaviors.

* Crisis response: Jeffco schools developed an extensive crisis response plan, adapted from the Incident Command System used by law enforcement and fire departments, to ensure a common emergency response structure, terminology and operating procedures. Regularly scheduled training and practice drills ensure successful implementation and evaluation of the crisis response plan.

Richard Veech, a retired area administrator, serves as lead instructor for emergency response training and a consultant for school safety in the Jefferson County Public Schools, P.O. Box 4001, Golden, CO 80401. E-mail: Marilyn Saltzman is the former manager of communications services for Jefferson County Public Schools.