DENVER — A group of Colorado lawmakers made their way back to the state Capitol during the summer to talk about school safety.
Thursday was the first meeting for the revamped Colorado School Safety Committee that has a new mission: to review existing statutes related to school safety, emergency response planning and the prevention of threats with the goal to craft up to five new school safety bills that would be introduced in the January 2020 legislative session.
Thursday's meeting ran all day as committee members from both sides of the aisles heard from mental health experts, law enforcement, students and parents.
Katie Grubb showed up with her two-year-old son because she felt it was important to be there as both a mother and a high school social studies teacher.
"I don’t think it’s fair for me to feel like my life is at risk when I go to work," said Grubb." Or worry about my son when he goes to school in a couple of years."
The committee will discuss how to reduce school shootings as well as address suicide and bullying, according to the chair of the committee, Democratic Representative Dafna Michaelson Jenet.
"There's a significant need for more resources in mental health to scale to some of the work already being done that is evidence-based," she said." I imagine we might look for a sustainable source of funding."
Among the speakers was a panel of school security experts, including Denver Public Schools Chief of Safety, Michael Eaton; Arapahoe High School School Resource Officer Jame Englert; Chris Wilderman, Director of Safe and Sustainable Environments from Adams 12; and Dr. Katherine Kulhman a police psychologist with Nicoletti-Flater Associates.
They told the committee that while school security is a priority, protocol is not consistent district to district. They followed that up by talking about what's being done right, like strong collaboration between schools and first responders and getting grants for school safety.
The panel also mentioned what they said good school security protocol should entail, like prioritizing physical security improvements, making sure there is an inclusive environment at schools and utilizing programs like Safe2Tell, a violence prevention program that allows students, teachers or community members to anonymously report safety concerns.
The committee also heard a presentation from Colorado Children's Campaign, an advocacy group for children.
The group said while it may seem counter-intuitive, schools are safer than they were in the 1990s when it comes to the number of kids who are victims of serious crimes at school or getting in physical fights. They pulled data from agencies like the FBI and the Department of Justice for their information.
They also gave suggestions on what might contribute to good policy, like a flexible funding stream across mental health services.
The committee is bipartisan and the chair said they've addressed how to work best together.
"We talked about the areas that we think we can come to yes," said Rep. Michaelson Jenet." And what we think is too polarizing on either side of the table we are going to set that aside because we don’t have time to bicker while our children are dying."
The committee will meet again in August to discuss what school safety programs are working in Colorado and which ones are not.
They will have a total of three committee hearings before the session starts in January of 2020.
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