DENVER, CO — The bipartisan School Safety Committee today advanced five bills to improve school safety in Colorado, including improving coordination among state agencies working on school safety, expanding access to behavioral health training for educators and mental health days for students, and enhancing the Safe2Tell program.
“Our goal must be that not one more child dies by violence in school, and we must always strive for this goal as we work to advance solutions that make our classrooms and campuses safer,” said School Safety Committee Chair Rep. Dafna Michaelson Jenet (D-Commerce City). “I’m proud of our bipartisan work, and I am grateful for the citizens, advocates, and agencies that have helped us develop these bills. The legislation we advanced today will help ensure that we are spending our state’s limited resources as best we can while improving students, parents and teachers’ access to the support and services they need.”
“Too many students are facing violence in our schools, and we have a profound responsibility to address this crisis and save lives,” said Rep. Emily Sirota (D-Denver). “These bipartisan bills will provide better and enhanced resources to our students, teachers, and parents, and they will ensure that all levels of state government are aligned in our common goal of protecting our children and improving school safety.”
“Above all, our students deserve to feel safe in our schools. I believe that we have made significant progress on this committee in doing just that,” said School Safety Committee Vice Chair Sen. Rhonda Fields (D-Aurora). “We have worked together to come up with a package of five bipartisan bills that will help address the crisis we are experiencing in our schools. We have put forth legislation that will provide a comprehensive, evidence-based, consistent approach to addressing school safety and the behavioral health of our students, filling the gaps that exist across schools and districts, providing improved oversight, and enabling us to continue moving forward on this critical issue. We know there is more work to be done, but this is a big step in the right direction, and I am grateful to our committee members for their diligence and commitment.”
“I am proud of each of the bills voted out of committee today, because we will improve school safety in the immediate future by ensuring the safety of students at school and addressing the behavioral health needs of young people,” said Sen. Julie Gonzales (D-Denver). “We also will continue these critical efforts through a working group comprised of the people who are directly impacted by the need for school safety collaboration: educators, law enforcement agencies, the relevant state agencies, and lawmakers. We have benefited greatly over this interim of creating a space to listen to one another, describe our challenges, and work toward solutions, and this working group will allow that important work to continue.”
Interagency Working Group on School Safety: While several Colorado school safety programs are national models and are studied across the country for their effectiveness and innovation in this critical field, last month the State Auditor released a report that found some inefficiencies, duplications, and shortcomings in coordination and communication between state agencies.
The final bill advanced today would establish a state working group of all the agencies and groups working on school safety issues to streamline programs and improve communication across agencies in response to the audit’s findings. The group will study the use of lockdown drills, identify school safety best practices districts can adopt, improve transparency and facilitate interagency coordination.
Sponsors: Reps. Michaelson Jenet and Van Winkle; Sens. Gardner and Gonzales
Expand Behavioral Health Training for Educators: This bill would direct the Department of Education to develop and offer a voluntary “train the trainer” program that will help teachers learn skills to assist their students who are struggling with behavioral and mental health challenges. Students report a need for trusted adults to confide in, and many teachers and parents have expressed interest in being better equipped to talk with students about difficult subjects and provide them the support they need.
Teachers would learn many skills including the use of trauma-informed approaches to improve school climate and culture and how to identify behavioral health challenges. It would also help them identify and access available resources, services and treatment available to their students, bullying and suicide prevention, and de-escalation techniques in crisis situations.
Sponsors: Sen. Fields; Reps. Sirota and Beckman
Enhancements to Safe2Tell: Safe2Tell, developed in Colorado after the Columbine tragedy, provides students a confidential way to report and talk with someone about behavioral health issues and has become a national model. Other states have taken Colorado’s lead and made improvements, adapting the now 20 year old program for new technologies and best practices developed in recent years.
The Safe2Tell enhancements would include aligning the Safe2Tell program and the crisis hotline more closely to ensure that individuals in crisis can rapidly access crisis counseling. It would also align the processes for all types of incoming tips and adjust the annual advertising campaign to raise awareness about the program and reduce its misuse. Finally, it would enhance law enforcement’s ability to prevent imminent physical harm.
Sponsors: Reps. Michaelson Jenet and Van Winkle; Sens. Fields and Lundeen
Behavioral Health Sick Days: The second bill would require school districts to include mental and behavioral health concerns as excused absences in their attendance policies in order to reduce stigma and encourage students to prioritize their health. Writing this explicitly into school absence policies will help normalize students taking time away from school in order to improve their behavioral health and is a step towards a full understanding of parody between physical and behavioral health.
Sponsors: Sen. Fields and Rep. Michaelson Jenet
Services for Juveniles with Severe Behavioral Health Conditions: The legislation tasks the School Safety Resource Center to convene a working group to conduct a gap analysis with respect to the adequacy and availability of behavioral health treatment for children and youth. The goal is to ensure that behavioral health services are available for those who have a severe need.
Sponsors: Reps. Beckman and Michaelson Jenet; Sen. Gonzales