How Grand County’s schools protect students | SkyHiNews.com

How Grand County’s schools protect students

A single student walks down a hallway in Middle Park High School.

Last week's tragic school shooting in Parkland, Fla., has brought student safety issues back to the forefront in America's public discourse and while politicians, pundits and the public continue to discuss the validity of legislation, school administrators and law enforcement officials are quietly reviewing policies and procedures meant to stop school shootings or prevent them in the first place.

East Grand School District employs a variety of strategies meant to either prevent school shootings before they begin or to address potential incidents after they have started. The district utilizes an emergency plan and standard response protocol developed in large part by the father of Emily Keyes, who was killed in the Platte Canyon High School hostage crisis of 2006.

The district's response protocol includes instructions for lockdowns and lockouts with basic procedures such as locking interior doors, turning out lights, moving to an out-of-sight location and maintaining silence. Additionally, the district has held training sessions for faculty and staff in hopes of maintaining a baseline of preparedness.

At the same time, district officials are cognizant of the potential impacts such efforts have on students and their sense of safety within our local schools.

"We know our kids learn first when they are safe, and secondly when they feel comfortable," East Grand Superintendent Frank Reeves said. "But how do you provide a safe and comfortable environment in a setting that is pretty much always on lock down? We are still trying to have schools that are open and welcoming."

The conflict between heightened security and a welcoming atmosphere for students is not the only area where district officials must make hard choices.

Budgets are a major factor in efforts to maintain safe schools, but with the state's school funding dynamics, few additional resources are available to significantly beef up school security systems.

Last year, East Grand Schools and the Granby Police Department entered into discussions to establish a school resource officer, or SRO, position for the Granby area. Over the summer, Craig Parten was hired as Granby's newest officer and the new SRO for East Grand. Parten has an extensive history working as an SRO in Colorado and during the school year works primarily from the three Granby area public schools, where he often seeks to address potential problems before they arise.

Prevention was a recurring theme for Reeves, as well as Parten and Granby Police Chief Jim Kraker.

"Prevention is key," Kraker said. "We have a lot of response procedures but the key to this is prevention. The SRO position is more than just law enforcement; there is an informal counselor aspect to that. We are trying to create a climate where law enforcement is approachable. As a society if we can prevent the next one, that is going to be more important than our response."

Kraker highlighted the Safe2Tell program, which allows students to report concerning behavior anonymously to the SRO and district officials and highlighted how the SRO position works hand-in-hand with school counselors to address concerns in ways that do not elevate an issue to the criminal level.

"If we do receive information it is important for us not to minimize it, to go ahead and follow through," Kraker said. "Sometimes it can be uncomfortable for a family to have law enforcement involved in something that may just be a juvenile issue or a mental health issue. Someone may have just made a flippant statement. We can resolve that without making it into a criminal thing, but we cannot minimize it when we get a tip."

Parten echoed his sentiments.

"We are addressing issues by being there for them (students) on an informal counseling basis," Parten said. "Those relationships are huge. Empathy goes a long ways."

Reeves also focused on the prevention and mental health aspect of school safety as key factors.

"Addressing mental health problems is gigantic," Reeves said. "I think we still live in a society where we choose to ignore as much as we can. It is not my problem until it becomes my problem and quite honestly I think that is what happened in most places when this happens."