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School safety focus of SVVSD town hall


Photo by Vicky Dorvee Aiphone’s like this one at Niwot High School are a first line of defense to protect schools from intruders.

St. Vrain Valley School District Superintendent Don Haddad opened the bond update and school safety town hall meeting held at Silver Creek High School (the fourth such meeting this month in the district) by emphasizing that for SVVSD, and for himself, student safety was an area of concern long before the recent shootings.

Haddad pointed to the “summer of violence” that occurred in Denver in 1993 as the initial cause for the heightened worry over school safety. At that time he was working at a high school in Cherry Creek and a series of youth-driven violent events was the catalyst that began the partnership of law enforcement and schools.

To the meeting audience of around 150 people, including parents, Silver Creek High School staff, and public officials, including Boulder County District Attorney Michael Dougherty, SVVSD board members and school resource officers, Haddad explained the two avenues by which the district, with the help of experts, now approaches protecting our schools.

The first tactic falls under the heading of a “softening” approach, which takes aim at prevention – preventing children from falling through the cracks by utilizing human resources such as counselors, school psychologists, school resource officers and interventionists who work with kids experiencing social and emotional challenges. Training of staff and students in all safety measures and drills also falls under the heading of deterrence.

Haddad explained the second way of tackling safety is a “hardening” approach that addresses creating facility barriers. Interior and exterior school cameras, the installation of an Aiphone (a bell/camera/buzzer system), and double door vestibules that route visitors through administrative entries, along with line-of-sight architectural design, were mentioned as the biggest barriers. Admittedly, he noted that some schools in the district are in transition to install these features.

During the question and answer session, a parent asked whether the district accepted funds from the National Rifle Association, as some school districts around the country have. Haddad said SVVSD has not accepted any funds from the NRA.

About the debate of arming teachers, Haddad said, “We’re having conversations in the spirit of being open-minded. I don’t want you to misunderstand what I’m saying; we’re not considering doing that. I’m just saying, we’re listening.”

A military veteran in the audience brought up the topic of arming teachers. He said that because of the type of training they’d go through, as opposed to a police officer or a person in the service who is trained to kill, “it would not make sense to arm staff.” No one in the audience expressed support for arming teachers. One parent stated, “My wife is a teacher and she doesn’t want to be Rambo.”

Haddad said, “We have many other options besides arming our teachers.”

Other questions revolved around identifying students who are a potential danger to the school, especially in light of the red flags for the Parkland, FL shooter. Haddad brought up the Safe2Tell program where anonymous leads are given to the school. He said they had received over 800 calls last year and “we take them all seriously.”

Brian Krause, director of Student Services, spoke to the subject of disenfranchised students by describing two programs being instituted in the district. Those programs are Sources of Strength and Rachel’s Challenge. The programs focus on developing resilience and grit, encouraging human connections, reducing bullying, violence and addictions, and destigmatizing intervention for emotional support.

One parent said that the double-door measure isn’t effective. At drop off time, he said, “it’s pandemonium and there’s wide-open access to these children.” He said he offered to pay to put cameras in his child’s elementary school.

“There’s a reality to what you’re saying,” Haddad said, “but we are telling our staff to constantly be vigilant.”

As for current events, Haddad said, “Part of what’s happening is that students are now really ratcheting up their activity, making it obvious that what is happening is no longer acceptable in their mind's eye. And it’s much harder to shut down a child than it is to shut down someone from the opposite party. So you’re seeing it pick up some momentum. And it’s my hope that it will continue until more things come into play.”

Citing the drawbacks to sending political messages to the community and students, as superintendent, Haddad said he and the district could not actively promote walkouts or voice an opinion on gun control specifics. “But at the end of the day, we needed to be sure to do everything we can to protect our students. That’s what was never negotiable. But, I’m proud of our students for what they did and for doing it in a peaceful way.”

“As far as the next steps,” Haddad said, “we’re going to continue doing what we’ve been doing and go deeper.”

When asked about his wish list for how to increase school safety, Haddad was quick to say that increased human resources would be the most effective. Increasing counseling staff, social workers, psychiatrists, and lowering the teacher-to-student ratio, more campus supervisors and school resource officers (especially in the elementary and middle school level where those positions are more sparse) and, getting more parental engagement are the key ways he believes will make a difference.

For anyone wanting to anonymously report concerns about potential threats or concerns, please call 1-877-542-7233 or visit www.Safe2Tell.org.


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