John O'Donnell

“Columbine High School” is a name that resonates with all Coloradans; the events that occurred there 20 years ago cast a shadow over our state and have become an icon for pure evil.

As we wrap up this school year, in the recent aftermath of the STEM School shooting, the discussion over how to prevent, respond and manage these events is ongoing. Experts from law enforcement, medical first responders, mental health professionals, and schools are building on their experience to develop comprehensive strategies to protect our children. The JeffCo DeAngelis Foundation was formed over a year ago to address school safety. Under the leadership of Columbine Principal Frank DeAngelis and others, the foundation has brought together Colorado’s experts to teach first responders and educators about how to prepare for these events. They created the “Colorado School Safety Project.”

With the 1999 Columbine tragedy and similar school shootings at Platte Canyon, Arapahoe High School, and Deer Creek Middle School in mind, the Colorado Legislature passed House Bill 18-1413, the School Safety Grant Program to enhance school safety by identifying needs and coordinating resources

Beginning last year, the “Colorado School Safety Project” team began discussions with many of the 178 Colorado School Districts about providing training. After receiving a school safety grant from House Bill 18-1413 for startup dollars to underwrite safety training programs, they have been reaching out across the state to prepare Colorado’s schools to respond to a school invasion or school shooting event.

The project team provides training by experienced law enforcement personnel. Since Columbine, police and SWAT have changed tactics and training for active shooter events. These tactics are being accepted and taught internationally. Jefferson County Schools has donated an unoccupied elementary school for use by all law enforcement to train in the classroom setting. The School is equipped with the latest in high tech training equipment including the latest FBI simulation programs. Navy SEALS, FBI, Homeland Security and many Colorado police and sheriff’s departments train there. Also, a program to train conceal carry faculty has been requested and training for these volunteers will be in place for the 2019 -2020 school year. (30 districts have implemented teacher carry.)

The Project Team members also provide Threat Assessment training for principals, teachers and school counselors to help staff identify and assist students under mental and emotional stress. Their curriculum includes the Standard Response Protocol for teachers to protect students in the event of a campus disruption, (Locks – Lights – Out of Sight!) The Standard Reunification Protocol is taught to help the school community track students back to loved ones, and provide guidance for agency coordination between schools, police and emergency medical care. These are all part of the Projects curriculum.

Mental health support, faculty and staff prevention, response training and tactical training are in the Project’s toolbox. Colorado is a large state and it takes time to engage every district and independent K-12 school to bring them on board. What the Project teaches is new and it takes time to build a culture of awareness in all of Colorado’s 178 locally managed school districts. From Craig to Springfield and Cortez to Julesburg there are 900,000 or more K-12 students in over 1,000 schools.

The professionals involved in the planning and teaching with the Colorado School Safety Program are regarded as the best in the nation. With their command of threat assessment, classroom and event behaviors and in teaching the latest in police intervention the Team comes highly regarded. Their Board of Directors has more than a century combined of public engagement and policy building.

The Colorado Legislature this session and last has worked in the most bipartisan fashion to give life to this project. Democrats and Republicans are sponsors and co-sponsors of this and last year’s legislation. Both bills passed unanimously in both Houses of the Legislature this year. They will be working together over this summer to help analyze school violence in Colorado to be sure that Colorado is doing its best to keep our children safe.

John O’Donnell is owner and founder of O’Donnell & O’Donnell LLP a local public relations firm.

John O'Donnell is owner and founder of O'Donnell & O'Donnell LLP a local public relations firm.

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