DENVER (AP) – A legislative panel looking at how to prevent school violence in Colorado started work Tuesday by hearing alarming data about rates of depression among teenage students.
About 25 percent of middle and high school students reported being depressed for at least two weeks in 2013, according to the anonymous Healthy Kids Colorado Survey overseen by the state health department.
The figure was cited by Christine Harms, a panel member and director of the Colorado School Safety Resource Center, a state agency that provides consultation and training to schools. Harms noted that being depressed or suicidal doesn’t always correlate with being homicidal, but she said that most school shooters have been suicidal at the time of the attack or at some point before.
“I’m really hoping that this committee will see that we need more resources in our schools, more mental health resources and more mental health resources in our communities,” she said after the meeting.
Lawmakers formed the committee in response to the death of Claire Davis. She was shot by a fellow student in 2013 at Arapahoe High School. But state officials have been searching for solutions to student violence since the Columbine High School shootings in 1999.
Colorado’s history with school violence goes beyond the shootings at Columbine and Arapahoe.
In 2006, a 53-year-old drifter took six girls hostage at Platte Canyon High School. He fatally shot Emily Keyes, 16, before turning the gun on himself during a confrontation with a SWAT team.
In 2010, a former Deer Creek Middle School student shot and wounded two students before teachers tackled him. Bruco Eastwood was later found not guilty by reason of insanity.
“There’s nobody in this state and this (legislative) body that hasn’t been hurt and deeply affected by school violence,” said state Sen. Mark Scheffel, the GOP’s Senate leader and a sponsor of the measure to create the study panel.
The committee, which includes lawmakers, parents, school officials and mental health professionals, will meet through the fall and can provide legislative ideas for next year.
Topics the panel will analyze include ways to assess threats and figuring out how to identify and monitor students in a mental-health crisis.
The study panel is designed to work in tandem with legislation passed this year that makes school districts liable for lawsuits of up to $900,000 when they’re found to be negligent for attacks. The panel is supposed to give schools recommendations on how to better protect students, but district officials have expressed concern that the specter of lawsuits will result in higher insurance premiums.
– By Ivan Moreno, AP Writer
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