BAYFIELD – Rural schools across the state are banding together to do safety training in the wake of deadly school shootings in Colorado.
Earlier this year, 9Wants to asked all 178 school districts about their active-shooter preparedness and found not all Colorado schools train their students for an active shooter event, not every school does regular drills, and no one is checking if they are.
Since our investigation in February 2016, we’ve found more and more schools expanding their safety training.
9NEWS traveled to Bayfield, Colorado in August, where the Colorado School District Self Insurance pool sponsored training for districts in the southwestern part of the state.
CSDSIP, an insurance company for member schools, is spending nearly $170,000 this year on training.
This year’s training budge is consistent with what CSDSIP spent last year, but the focus on the type of training offered to schools has shifted since the passage of the Claire Davis Act. Starting in July of 2017, the Act will make schools liable for safety.
“We’ve always had school safety training,” Steve Fast, Executive Director of the Colorado School District Self Insurance Pool said. “But the Claire Davis Act changed our focus to offering school more courses on how to keep students safe.”
Up to 75 public schools, charter schools and Boards of Cooperative Educational Services (BOCES) will get trained this year. CSDSIP says that’s what it averages year to year
“We are more concerned about doing the right thing and keeping kids safe than we are about the ramifications of the act,” Fast said.
The training is made even more impactful because one well known trainer knows first-hand how high the stakes are for smaller schools and their families.
John Michael Keyes founded the I Love U Guys foundation after his daughter Emily was shot and killed in Platte Canyon High School in 2006.
“We can push down from the top, we can legislate this, we can mandate this,” Keyes said, “but if we don’t have boots on the ground who’s willing to take this as a cause and make this happen in their district, their department, their school, their agency, then, all the mandating is just that, it’s a check list.”
The new training offered by CSDSIP will include I Love U Guys Foundation’s Standard Report Protocol, a way students, staff and first responders are expected to react to an emergency. Many schools in the state already use SRP. Schools will also receive social media awareness classes, including sexting, self-esteem issues, and bullying training.
“The outcome is that they can bring the Standard Response Protocol, the Standard Reunification method to the classroom, to the school and really act as force multiplier, making sure that students, staff, first responders and parents understand what’s going on,” Keyes said.
Kathleen Morris believes in training. She coordinates it for nine districts in Southwest Colorado.
“I feel a moral responsibility to step up and make a difference,” Morris said. “Being proactive is just better, why wait till we are all traumatized by an event and then we all lose our choices to make a difference.”
Not everyone in the community buys this.
An editorial in The Durango Herald the day of the training in Bayfield talked about parents’ reaction on the first day of elementary school, when some were surprised not to be able to just walk inside. The new security system had new locks, buzzers and cameras.
“Many were dismayed by what they viewed as a learning atmosphere changed from one of welcome and wonder to something more sterile, with a sinister undertone,” Bill Roberts, Editorial page editor wrote. “Critics of the new measures, and of the public funds spent on them, point out that the likelihood of a serious incident occurring at school is miniscule.”
Jeff Whitmore was of the same mind three years ago, when he started his job as Bayfield High School’s director of transportation and safety.
“I was one of those folks that, ‘if it does happen here, how can we ever stop it?’ I don’t believe that anymore,” Whitmore said. “I think we can put things in place that are very unrestrictive, so it’s not a prison, but at the same time we can keep our kids safe by what I call buckling our seat belt every day.”
Whitmore said 30 years ago people didn’t wear seatbelts and now most people do.
Districts are implementing other programs in hopes they will never have to use the training they are now receiving.
Bayfield High School has Friends of Rachel Club, a part of an anti-bullying effort many Colorado schools have organized.
The club is named after Rachel Scott, the first person shot in at Columbine.
“I thought this is crazy, we’re here to educate children and we’re talking about what we would do if somebody came in and tried to kill them,” said Bayfield High School librarian Jennifer Leithauser.
Leithauser also runs Friends of Rachel club. She didn’t think student safety would be such a big part of her on-the-job training.
She’s is really proud of her club for many reason, including the students’ upcoming trip to speak on bullying prevention at an international conference in New Orleans.
“It’s a huge deal,” she said.
Some students have never been on an airplane; some have never been to New Orleans.
Anti-bullying is just a piece of a big effort to help prevent school violence.