We Cannot Fail Our Children, School Safety Must Be A Priority

By Heidi Ganahl
We Cannot Fail Our Children, School Safety Must Be A Priority

For the first time in our nation’s history, America’s schools have become the most likely place to encounter youth victimization and violence. Despite more resources, money, and attention than ever before, we are not only failing to make the situation better, but some current efforts appear to be making the situation worse.

After 10 years of working on school safety, I have learned that we must start by diagnosing the problem in each of our Colorado schools as each school is unique. That should happen in parallel to creating a better standard for school safety, with which all schools can affordably comply.

My work on school safety began with the foundation I launched in 2013, Moms Fight Back (MFB). MFB is a non-profit built to teach moms how to make a difference around REALLY tough issues our kids face, like teen suicide, sexual assault, bullying, family court reform, child abuse, and school safety.

Due to my work with MFB, Governor Hickenlooper appointed me to the Governor’s Committee on School Safety and Youth in Crisis in 2015. I worked with other community leaders and legislators to define a “standard of care” for school safety.  The directive was created out of the tragic death of Claire Davis at Arapahoe High School.

After a year of meetings, hearings, work sessions, and public outreach, we had concrete ideas about how to get started.  But it ended before we could begin, when the committee members were stopped from putting forward the up to five bills that were asked of us. No explanation, just a thank you from the committee head.

I decided to keep the momentum going and launched a pilot with Moms Fight Back, the School Safety 360 Pilot.  

Colorado can turn the grief of tragedies into lessons for a safer, brighter future for America’s schoolchildren.  We MUST do this!

Heidi ganahl

Information sharing and gathering are key. As a seasoned CEO, I believe that the success of any business, organization, or initiative relies on constant measurement of past and present conditions.  Most schools already complete significant empirical measurements around their own safety profiles when applying for and negotiating school liability insurance coverage.   

In conjunction with this type of existing effort, any comprehensive approach to school safety must also consider the spectrum of parties involved in keeping America’s youth safe at school, including the Department of Homeland Security, school boards, Colorado’s School Safety Resource Center, the FBI, local law enforcement, mental health professionals, and more.

The basis of the School Safety 360 Pilot is a “School Safety Profile” assessment tool and checklist that we created with a team of highly respected security and safety experts. The Profile requires a comprehensive school safety site assessment done over three days. It pulls from a number of nationally recognized resources, such as law enforcement, public safety, DHS, and FBI checklists.

The assessment tool includes a comprehensive and weighted evaluation of each school’s available resources, culture, incident metrics, and alignment with recommended approaches to school safety.  The profile also focuses on the physical site and how well the facility protects the students and staff.  Final scoring would create a comprehensive School Safety Profile that identifies opportunities to improve on all fronts.

Once a school’s baseline safety profile is established, the fastest way to address any critical issues is through quality training and the implementation of best practices to address gaps in the school’s current approach to ensuring safety.

Finally, it is critical to develop an accreditation team that would be responsible for prescribing standards, establishing protocols, and developing guidelines for ongoing training and continuing education requirements.  The team would include experts from the worlds of education, technology, public safety, military, homeland security, and emergency services, but it would exist as a standalone non-governmental entity.

The School Safety Profile alone would not make schools safer, so we included in the pilot the creation of a training program designed to help schools address any gaps uncovered by the assessment.

My team and I met with various school districts, legislators, and community leaders to launch this effort.  Unfortunately, district administrators and state legislators dismissed the pilot for various reasons.  It would have made me feel better if they chose some other test in place of ours, but for the most part, they did nothing. I believe it will take parents pushing programs like this through to make change happen. Or a new Governor!

There are so many good intentioned people working on this issue, and for that I am so grateful.  But before we can cure the illness, we must diagnose the disease. In the meantime, we should not allow the Democrat leadership to remove school resource officers from schools when they are needed more than ever. And we should not let them pass legislation that makes it hard for administrators and teachers to deal with discipline in schools as they have tried to do.

The School Safety 360 program is the first in a five point plan I have drafted to address school safety shortcomings in our state as your Governor.

Together, we have the capacity to drive positive change for our youth; set an example of collaborative perseverance and unshakeable persistence towards progress; and reclaim our educational ecosystems as wellsprings of intensive learning, lifelong empowerment, and holistic inspiration for happier, healthier, and safer future generations. Colorado can turn the grief of tragedies into lessons for a safer, brighter future for America’s schoolchildren.  We MUST do this!

5 Point Plan to Address School Safety

  1. Launch a School Safety SWAT team that would be responsible for prescribing standards and protocols, assessing and guiding schools to meet them, and constantly reporting to the Governor.  The SWAT team would include experts in technology, mental health, education, public safety, the military, homeland security, and emergency services. (outlined in my School Safety 360 Program)
  2. Create a School Safety Accountability Dashboard (by school and district) for parents, schools, and community leaders. By analyzing the incidents of physical attack, drug use, bullying, sexual assault, weapons possession, and school suspensions, these insights will assist stakeholders in their efforts to reduce violence and have the important conversations that need to take place between community members, their schools, and government officials.
  3. Host a Governor’s School Safety Report to Colorado Parents live press conference monthly to track specific metrics so the public can hold the governor accountable for this effort. This will also assure our resources are moving the needle quickly and effectively.
  4. Launch RECONNECT Colorado, a massive effort to educate and mobilize our community to address the mental health crisis we are experiencing.  Our focus will be on implementing the 988 hotline, drastically increasing access to online, live, and inpatient help, halting open air drug use, educating children and parents about drug and screen addiction and building Oasis centers (i.e., mental health urgent care) in schools, rec centers, libraries, and existing urgent cares.
  5. Issue a Call for Innovation around school safety to evaluate and pilot new approaches to keep our children safe with a resource fund and an implementation team that can pilot the ideas quickly and efficiently that include students and parents.

About the Author:

Heidi Ganahl is a Mother of Four, CU Regent, The Only State-Wide Elected Republican in Colorado, and Colorado Republican Gubernatorial Candidate.