This story by William Oster appeared on Colorado Newsline on May 1, 2023.
Colorado Governor Jared Polis signed two bills into law last week in an effort to address mental health needs and school safety after an academic year marked by shootings and threats on Colorado school campuses.
The first of the two bills, Senate Bill 23-70, will require school resource officers to complete ongoing training from the Attorney General’s office on how to better utilize the state-run Safe2Tell service. An anonymous tip line for students, parents and members of school communities, Safe2Tell allows individuals to make reports to trained professionals with concerns for bullying, welfare checks or suicide threats through a phone call or on the web.
In the 2021-22 school year alone, Safe2Tell received more than 19,000 reports from schools across the state, according to a Safe2Tell annual report. Of these reports, suicide threats were the highest reported concern at 14%. The new law aims to help improve improve how SROs already in schools can more proactively assist students and staff with concerns.
SROs, which are armed law enforcement officials deployed to schools, have been the subject of a contentious recent debate in Denver Public Schools, following the district board’s vote to remove them from campuses in June 2020 after the murder of George Floyd. After a shooting at Denver’s East High School in March, the board unanimously voted to suspend that policy until the end of the school year, bringing SROs back in Denver schools.
“As a parent, keeping our students and our schools safe is one of my top priorities, and the Safe2Tell program is a critical avenue for kids to report issues and concerns they are having in school or at home,” said state Sen. Chris Kolker, a Centennial Democrat and sponsor of the bill. “In order for the program to work best, the adults receiving this information must have the best training possible. This new law will ensure that school resource officers are well-equipped to handle these tough situations, and will make our schools and our communities safer as a result.”
Gov. Polis also signed Senate Bill 23-241, which creates a new state-level Office of School Safety, which will aid schools in preparing and preventing emergency and crisis situations through various training and supportive services. Student leaders across the Denver metro area have called on lawmakers to improve school safety, with hundred of Denver public school students marching to the Colorado Capitol in early April to testify in favor of gun reform.
Colorado schools have experienced a record high in shooting threats or incidents in the 2022-23 school year, with seven reported incidents across the Denver area and the Front Range, according to the K-12 School Shooting Database. In a statement describing his support for the bill, state Sen. Jeff Bridges, a Democrat representing Greenwood Village, recalled friends and other Coloradans who have been victims of gun violence in schools.
“I had a friend who hid in the choir room at Columbine for hours,” he said. “A few years after I graduated from Arapahoe High School, Claire Davis was killed there, and Kendrick Castillo died protecting his classmates at the STEM school just steps outside my district. School safety is deeply personal to me and my constituents.”
The new office will act as a hub for other school-related resources in the state government, with the bill tasking the office with overseeing the School Safety Resource Center and School Access for Emergency Response Grant Program. The Office of School Safety will also administer a new Youth Violence Prevention Grant Program, which will provide grants of up to $100,000 for schools, community organizations and local governments to address youth violence.
“This bill dramatically expands the capabilities of our existing school safety programs, and puts them together so they have the collaboration, communication and coordination they need to more effectively keep Colorado kids safe,” Bridges said.
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