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A lot is asked of teachers. That includes preparing to defend classrooms

There's an extraordinary conversation happening when teachers take active shooter training.

DENVER — We ask and expect a lot from our teachers -- the teaching itself, paying for supplies and so much more. And now, after the deadly shooting in Uvalde, Texas, there's again a large conversation happening around teachers and active shooter training in Colorado and elsewhere.

Jefferson County School District's security director, John McDonald, has trained hundreds of schools and thousands of teachers across the country on this difficult ask, educating them on best practices.

"Lockdown is incredibly effective strategy," he said. "Behind a locked classroom door. Behind a locked door in a school, and a secondary locked classroom door, these are timed barriers that work. They are proven to work." 

Always keeping doors closed is easier than it sounds, he added. There are a lot of factors to consider, like kids coming and going, and now, end of year celebrations. He also said some older school buildings don't have air conditioning, so administrators have to keep doors and windows open to cool down the buildings.

But a lockdown helps buy time for law enforcement to show up.

And, if necessary, McDonald has also worked with teachers to think about how to defend themselves and the kids inside the classrooms.

While rare, it has happened.

"If there's no other recourse, no other recourse or moment in time that's all you got, what are your options?" asked McDonald. 

"Dr. David Benke, our math teacher at Deer Creek Middle School, knew immediately what he was going to do," he said, referencing the 2010 school shooting there. "He did. He attacked the gunman, subdued him and controlled him. But he is someone who thought about this a lot and put a lot of time and consideration behind that thought process. He reacted as he had built muscle memory. Most people, that's really difficult to do." 

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McDonald knows this is an extraordinary thing to ask teachers to think about. He said it's tough, heartbreaking and a last resort, but an important part of being prepared. 

"Any given day, a teacher's job is to educate our little ones, educate our kids who just want to be there to learn, thrive, and grow, and be happy in that environment. Now you are asking teachers to think about the worst case scenario."

McDonald said some teachers think about it more than others. He works with them on strategies and hopes to hand back some power to the classroom. 

"We can have the conversation today a little easier than we could a decade ago," said McDonald. "We've had a decade of tragedy. We've had two decades of tragedy. Everybody knows it, but it's still in the back of your mind. You think it will never happen to me. It can happen here, and it's happening somewhere. So, we have to have the conversation. It's a challenging one." 

There's also the matter of discussing all of this with children.

The conversations evolve with age. The older kids work on strategies that are more comprehensive and robust. 

The conversation is much gentler with younger kiddos, and strategy might include practicing games like who can lick a lollipop the quietest for longest? Who can draw in the dark the best?

McDonald said this kind of training is not just for schools, but can be used at the grocery store, movie theaters, church -- really anywhere. He also said after the January 6th insurrection, McDonald got calls from family and people in Washington expressing the young interns who went to Jeffco schools remembered what they learned, and used it.

Beyond this specific training, McDonald also said that everyone should being vigilant and ready to report something if you see something. 

"I want our families today to enjoy the summer. I want our families to take a breath. Do something amazing and fun with your kids. Find a way be together. Stop thinking of the last school year that was so tough on everyone. Don't even think about the next one yet." 


While McDonald said keeping any kind of threat outside the classroom is critical so that it doesn't fall on teachers and students to defend themselves, he also said finding enough people to work within their safety department has been a challenge. 

Right now, McDonald said Jeffco has three emergency dispatcher openings, three armed patrol officer openings and 16 campus security openings. 

"We can't fill them," he said. "I look at this, if you really believe that protecting our most precious resources, our most innocent is a valuable thing to do, then come join us in this fight." 

Jeffco isn't the only school district facing these issues. Douglas County Schools pairs with law enforcement for school resource officers, but their district is also facing challenges to hire other security staff, like dispatchers. 

In a statement the district wrote: 

"We are fortunate in Douglas County in that we have a great partnership with our law enforcement agencies. While we share in the cost of the School Resource Officers and Marshalls that are in our schools daily they are actually employed by the respective law enforcement agencies. We do experience challenges in hiring other security staff in our district (i.e. dispatchers) and in our schools due to both the labor shortage and competition with other industries."

Denver Public Schools (DPS) is facing similar challenges with recruitment and retention, but couldn't do an interview Friday because the safety leadership team was working on an after-action review following the events at Northfield High School the day prior.

Thursday, police started getting calls of a student with a gun. Denver Police eventually said it appeared to be a paintball gun. Two students were taken into custody, interviewed and then released to their parents.

Their review is meant to improve their response in case of future events. 

Shortages within a district's security department are different than school resource officers connected to law enforcement. And in some communities, like within DPS, school resource officers can be controversial, specifically when it comes to the way minority students are treated.

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When it comes to the number of open positions, DPS wrote: 

"The number of open positions has varied through the year but has been in the range of 10-15 full time employees out of the 140 we are currently budgeted for.  We have adjusted scheduling and overtime to ensure that we can continue to deliver services effectively despite on-going recruiting challenges."

McDonald said JeffCo has also been assigning overtime, people have been working when sick and injured, or they are cutting vacation time short so they can work to keep schools as safe as possible despite a lack of people. 

As for why this is happening, all the districts pointed to labor shortages and high competition. It's the same issues impacting several industries . 

DPS wrote: 

"Like many employers, we are facing a highly competitive recruiting environment, with compensation changing rapidly for comparable positions and a high pressure, albeit rewarding, work environment..."

The district is investing in job search agents to prioritize their postings and targeting candidates looking to work in the safety field. They are also pairing with Elitch Gardens to recruit their seasonal employees working in safety to work with DPS during the school year. 

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