Breaking News
More () »

Bill to create a school safety office has bipartisan support

East High School students who walked out of class to protest gun violence helped increase funding for the bill to create a school safety office, lawmakers said.

DENVER — Inside the state legislature, there are few things everyone can agree on.

Talking about school safety isn’t new. But all those protests East High School students held over the past months have had a real impact. A proposal to create a new office of school safety has bipartisan support. Student walkouts helped get millions more in funding for the programs it creates, lawmakers said.

"This is not a Democrat or Republican issue," said Democratic Sen. Jeff Bridges. "This is a bipartisan bill that takes a lot of the various different offices and grant programs that we have in our state that address school safety and puts them all together into the Department of Public Safety."

Bridges and Republican Sen. Barbara Kirkmeyer are working to push through their bill creating a new office of school safety. An audit in 2019 found Colorado’s school safety programs lacked a coordinated statewide response. This bill would aim to change that.

Funding for the bill stood at $6 million. Then East students walked out of class and into the Capitol. The budget for the bill soon rose to $16 million according to Bridges, adding funding for things like co-responder programs inside all schools.

"School safety is important to everybody, right," Kirkmeyer said. "I’m happy to say, look, we heard you and we’re actually doing something."

Only one district in the state currently has a co-responder program that sends a mental health clinician with a school resource officer to calls in classrooms. We highlighted it in Larimer County last week. This bill would give districts around the state money to start their own programs.

Amie Baca-Oehlert is a high school counselor and president of the Colorado Education Association. She’s lobbied for this change, arguing not all districts have the resources and funding to support programs like this.

"When we can bring a mental health professional along with a law enforcement professional, oftentimes the outcome is much better for the person who may need a different response than a law enforcement response," Baca-Oehlert said. "This is one of the challenges of the underfunding of our schools in Colorado, many of our districts do not have adequate mental health support or other resources to respond to student needs."

In addition to putting all of the school safety grant programs and state agencies involved in school safety under one roof, the bill would also fund programs like threat assessment training for school districts, a statewide crisis response unit and co-responders. 

Democrats just passed a slate of gun bills limiting access to firearms which they said will also improve school safety. Kirkmeyer said they do nothing to improve safety. Republicans don’t have the power to stop much of anything right now.

"I don’t know how those bills make anyone feel safer," Kirkmeyer said. "Instead of some of the bills that we have been passing down here that punish people who are following the law, this is something that we can do to help prevent another school tragedy."

Solutions don’t come easy. No one is promising this bill will change everything. But small steps can sometimes lead to change.

"Anyone who tells you a single bill is going to solve the problems is lying," Bridges said. "As much as I wish that this could solve the problem for everyone, everywhere, it’s going to take a lot more than just this bill."



Before You Leave, Check This Out