Parents are understandably on edge over the potential for harm to come to their kids on Colorado’s K-12 campuses. Incidents of school violence nationally and especially closer to home in our own state have heightened awareness — and raised questions — about what safety measures are in place to protect children. Too often, the answers seem inadequate.
The broader policy debates at Colorado’s Capitol — over gun control, criminal justice and other issues — seem to swirl high up in the air, well above the here-and-now realities of our kids’ schooldays. What parents really want to know is what concrete steps their local schools are taking to secure their children’s hallways and classrooms.
Last Sunday’s Perspective, authored by a security expert who also happens to be a parent and school board candidate, compellingly sketched out the multiple factors that have compounded security concerns at Colorado schools. Paul Ballenger, a Denver-based security consultant and military combat veteran, helped found the Parent Safety Advocacy Group with other parents concerned about security in Denver’s public school system.
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In his commentary, Ballenger recapped the influences over the past few years — from COVID’s school closures to the resurgence of gangs — that have created a “perfect storm” of threats that undermine kids’ mental health, discipline and overall sense of security.
That perfect storm may account for two shooting incidents involving Denver’s East High School earlier this year. In February, an East High student was shot dead near the campus; in March, another student at the high school shot and seriously wounded two administrators inside the school building.
The student in the latter incident — he fled and killed himself later that day — had been on probation at the time for a weapons charge that had gotten him expelled previously from a neighboring school district. Yes, incredibly, he was still being allowed to attend class.
Ballenger cites “nonsensical school discipline policies” that contribute to the threat level in schools — and that clearly was a factor in Denver’s second school shooting this year. Any school district that prioritizes “equity” for a student already adjudicated on a gun charge, over the safety of all other students, is urgently in need of new leadership.
Indeed, as The Gazette’s own Jimmy Sengenberger pointed out in his column Friday, Denver’s school district in particular seems to be developing a pattern of keeping students in class even when they pose a clear risk to their fellow students. Some 350 Denver students, Sengenberger notes, posed enough of a risk given their track records to require a threat assessment last year. Of those, 42 needed pat-downs to check for weapons — but still were allowed in school.
It’s almost unfathomable how such reckless policies were implemented by elected school board members and administered by school execs to whom parents entrust their children’s safety. What to do about such misplaced priorities?
Ballenger offers some common-sense recommendations all school districts in Colorado should embrace and implement. Among them:
• Identifying at-risk students long before high school and ensuring they support them as early as possible.
• Keeping people safe inside, and keeping threats outside — which means dangerous students and non-students.
• Not putting politics and emotion into decisions that affect safety.
• Electing school officials who make safety a priority.
• Parents and teachers holding schools and districts accountable for safety.
Particularly those last two points ought to come into play in upcoming school board elections around the state this November. It ultimately will be up to voters, after all, to remind school districts of their sacred duty to protect Colorado’s children.
Denver Gazette Editorial Board