DENVER (CBS4)– Protecting kids in Colorado classrooms is taking on a new urgency among state lawmakers at the state Capitol.
It was the first chance for lawmakers to meet since the shooting at Arapahoe High School last month. Lawmakers also met with those at the front line in our schools, counselors and school resource officers.
The expert panel made up of counselors, school resource officers and the deputy Colorado attorney general talked to lawmakers.
They recommended these three things to improve school safety:
- More safety emergency drills.
- More training for school resource officers specifically to deal with crisis situations and making good decisions under press.
- More school counselors to help students with mental health issues.
Colorado was thrust into the spotlight for school safety on April 20, 1999 when two students entered Columbine High School and opened fire, killing 12 students and a teacher before turning the guns on themselves.
Much has been learned since then but the panel agrees that what’s needed now is to build stronger relationships, referral and responses in our schools.
“It’s about kids struggling with mental health issues and thinking about being suicidal, are going to make bad decisions and the better relationships we have with those kids the more likely we are to know that,” said Sen. Mike Johnston, a Democrat representing northeast Denver.
Counselors say the ratio of 400 students to every one counselor, with many schools not having access to a psychologist on campus, is not meeting the needs of students.
Half the students in Denver Public Schools don’t even have access to a school counselor.
“The reasoning is money. Schools feel like they are put into a battle where they have to prioritize,” said Director of Counseling Support Services at Denver Public Schools Samantha Haviland. “Comes down to a math teacher and a school counselor.”
Schools do have more resource officers than ever before. Experts believe that even well-trained officers don’t necessarily react the best when faced with high-stress situations of an intruder.
“The skills necessary to survive a deadly encounter with an aggressive individual are perishable skills. One, we have to hire the right people and effectively train them and have ongoing training,” said School Resource Officer with Longmont Department of Public Safety Sgt. Douglas Ross.
State lawmakers said they will keep all the recommendations in mind when they begin making funding decisions this year and in the bills they sponsor.