5 Ways to Create a Multifaceted Student Safety Approach

93,000-student Colorado school district tackles the issue of student safety across 222 schools

When second graders were given access to Gmail, and fourth graders to start using Google Drive, we knew that we also needed to ensure we were keeping kids safe in this new world that we introduced them to. As a school district, it was unacceptable for us to put this kind of technology in the student's hand without some sort of oversight.

To make sure all of the bases were covered, we implemented a layered approach to student safety that included the Gaggle student safety platform, visitor and video management, robust drill schedules, and emergency response training for all staff members. Here’s how we did it:

Make the “human element” a central focus. The Denver Public Schools Department of Safety has 140 employees and 18 uniformed, armed officers who use mobile patrol vehicles. Another 18 of us are a little ‘softer’ in our dress, but we are also armed to respond to emergencies.

Roughly 80 campus safety officers are assigned to DPS’ middle and high schools and are coordinated by a 24/7/365 law enforcement dispatch center (which handles about 20,000 calls annually).

Factor in the different ways students are using technology. Early on, our district used the student safety platform only as an email solution. That changed four years ago when we started using it for Google Drive. The decision was largely driven by the fact that students had stopped using email to communicate with one another and had moved onto having conversations in documents and files using Drive. That was a real eye-opener for us.

Adopt a student safety platform. With incidences of suicide and self-harm growing exponentially among our youth—and with districts like DPS giving them tools to communicate this and tell us their inner most feelings—it is extremely important that we take each instance seriously and monitor to make sure that they're safe.

The student safety platform is central to our online safety management approach. This layered approach has helped us create a “full spectrum” of student safety in a world where no one can afford to operate in a silo. This year alone, the platform alerts helped us keep 70 students from self-harm or suicidal situations.

Assign one person to “triage” during the day. Last year, student safety platform reviewed about 1 million pieces of documentation for DPS. Most of those alerts went to Kellie Riley, who reviews each one to determine whether further action is warranted. We call this process “triage,” and in some cases the issues just come down to teenage drama, swearing (for which students receive an automatic warning), and even inappropriate quotes taken from books.

We definitely don't want all the stuff that we look at to be going to dispatch or law enforcement. They have more important things to do than investigate why someone put a picture of a marijuana leaf on his drive.

Make it a 24/7/365 effort. DPS’ dispatch center monitors alarms throughout the night and sends out officers to do wellness checks on students as needed. The center also handles any alerts that come in overnight, taking over after Kellie leaves for the day (she doesn’t work 24/7), and monitors Safe2Tell (an anonymous tip line in Colorado that both students and parents use for critical incidents).

The latter provides another way for school districts to get information when kids are being bullied, when they're depressed or suicidal, or when they’re threatening to harm others. Combined, our layered approach ensures that we never have any single point of failure; we have multiple safety nets, and we have redundancies.

Finally, we partner closely with our mental health professionals who share their documents on suicide risk reviews and threat assessments. Anytime we get either a Safe2Tell or a Gaggle alert the first thing we do is reference that sheet to determine the child’s suicide risk review. That way, we can inform the responding officer and ensure that he or she has the most current information. By combining this level of detail with our layered approach to student safety, we’re covering the bases in our digital world.

This article originally appeared in the July August 2020 issue of Campus Security Today.

About the Authors

Kellie Riley is DPS’s student safety specialist.

Melissa Craven is director of emergency management at Denver Public Schools Department of Safety.


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