Shootings stir worry in Colorado schools

We care about your safety, and we want to help you and your family cope.

That was the tenor of email blasts that many Colorado school districts sent to families Friday after learning that a gunman had shot and killed nearly 30 people – many of them children – at a Connecticut elementary school. Some schools also beefed up campus security.

A memorial to the students and teacher slain in a mass shooting at Columbine High School on April 20, 1999.

News of the tragedy was bound to frighten children and worry parents  – especially coming only months after the murder of 12 people inside an Aurora movie theater.

“Although this is an isolated event that happened far away from Aurora Public Schools, news of this nature – especially in light of the summer tragedy in our city – may be disturbing for students and families,” read Aurora Public Schools’ statement. “If your children express concern, please reassure them that they are safe.”

Boulder Valley’s message struck a similar tone, also referencing a recent tragedy nearby: the murder of 10-year-old Jessica Ridgeway after she was abducted on her way to school in Westminster.

“The news of this morning’s shooting in an elementary school in Connecticut can be extremely unsettling for both children and parents as we may recall from a local tragedy this past fall,” read part of an email sent to families with children in Boulder Valley Schools.

Some school leaders, such as Dougco’s Superintendent Liz Fagen, sent notes to school staff.

“This horrifying event impacts all of us who have children and/or who care for children each day in our schools,” she wrote. “Frankly, it leaves me brokenhearted and sick to my stomach.”

Columbine High School Principal Frank DeAngelis, who was principal when 15 people were killed at his school, including the two student shooters, had a similar reaction.

“It just takes me back to what we felt on April 20, 1999,” he said. “Just emotionally anyone alive during that time or in schools during that time … it just takes us back to that horrific day.” (View video of DeAngelis statement here.)

Districts reinforce safety measures

Districts offered tips on how to talk to children when a tragic event happens. And they offered the support of counseling services for students, staff and families. They also reminded the community of their desire to keep students and staff safe.

The message to Colorado Springs District 11 families also emphasized the safety measures the district has in place.

“Please know that our top priority in District 11 is student and staff safety,” it read. “As you know, our schools are locked during school hours and everyone entering must check in at the main office of all D11 schools. We have district security that routinely walk the grounds of all of our schools.”

The Cherry Creek district put all its schools “on a heightened level of supervision” Friday.

“You will notice an increased and visible police presence in your neighborhoods and community schools,” reads the note featured prominently on top of the district’s website.

The reason for the increased police presence is to “have a visible deterrence for a potential or perceived criminal act” and “to continue to foster and perpetuate an environment where our children, teachers, administrators, and other community members feel safe, specifically while driving to and from schools and while at school.” District officials made it clear that no credible threat had been received.

As a final note, the district asked parents to limit children’s exposure to TV coverage and social media posts about the mass shooting.

Aurora also beefed up police presence at schools and reminded parents of its numerous school security measures, including lockdown and evacuation plans and drills, strong visitor monitoring, security cameras, participation in emergency drills with other agencies and its system for communicating with parents.

And, the Jeffco Public Schools offered words of sympathy to those families suffering in Connecticut:

We join the rest of the country in offering our deepest sympathy to the families who have lost their precious children. 

Weekend Reads

Need classroom decor inspiration? These educators have got you covered.

This school year, students will spend about 1,000 hours in school —making their classrooms a huge part of their learning experience.

We’re recognizing educators who’ve poured on the pizazz to make students feel welcome. From a 9th-grade “forensics lab” decked out in caution tape to a classroom stage complete with lights to get first graders pumped about public speaking, these crafty teachers have gone above and beyond to create great spaces.

Got a classroom of your own to show off? Know someone that should be on this list? Let us know!

Jaclyn Flores, First Grade Dual Language, Rochester, New York
“Having a classroom that is bright, cheerful, organized and inviting allows my students to feel pride in their classroom as well as feel welcome. My students look forward to standing on the stage to share or sitting on special chairs to dive into their learning. This space is a safe place for my students and we take pride in what it has become.”

Jasmine, Pre-K, Las Vegas, Nevada
“My classroom environment helps my students because providing calming colors and a home-like space makes them feel more comfortable in the classroom and ready to learn as first-time students!”


Oneika Osborne, 10th Grade Reading, Miami Southridge Senior High School, Miami, Florida
“My classroom environment invites all of my students to constantly be in a state of celebration and self-empowerment at all points of the learning process. With inspirational quotes, culturally relevant images, and an explosion of color, my classroom sets the tone for the day every single day as soon as we walk in. It is one of optimism, power, and of course glitter.”

Kristen Poindexter, Kindergarten, Spring Mill Elementary School, Indianapolis, Indiana
“I try very hard to make my classroom a place where memorable experiences happen. I use songs, finger plays, movement, and interactive activities to help cement concepts in their minds. It makes my teacher heart so happy when past students walk by my classroom and start their sentence with, “Remember when we…?”. We recently transformed our classroom into a Mad Science Lab where we investigated more about our 5 Senses.”


Brittany, 9th Grade Biology, Dallas, Texas
“I love my classroom environment because I teach Biology, it’s easy to relate every topic back to Forensics and real-life investigations! Mystery always gets the students going!”


Ms. Heaton, First Grade, Westampton, New Jersey
“As an educator, it is my goal to create a classroom environment that is positive and welcoming for students. I wanted to create a learning environment where students feel comfortable and in return stimulates student learning. A classroom is a second home for students so I wanted to ensure that the space was bright, friendly, and organized for the students to be able to use each and every day.”

D’Essence Grant, 8th Grade ELA, KIPP Houston, Houston, Texas
“Intentionally decorating my classroom was my first act of showing my students I care about them. I pride myself on building relationships with my students and them knowing I care about them inside and outside of the classroom. Taking the time to make the classroom meaningful and creative as well building a safe place for our community helps establish an effective classroom setting.”


Jayme Wiertzema, Elementary Art, Worthington, Minnesota
“I’m looking forward to having a CLASSROOM this year. The past two years I have taught from a cart and this year my amazing school district allowed me to have a classroom in our school that is busting at the seams! I’m so excited to use my classroom environment to inspire creativity in my students, get to know them and learn from their amazing imaginations in art class!”


Melissa Vecchio, 4th Grade, Queens, New York
“Since so much of a student’s time is spent inside their classroom, the environment should be neat, organized, easy to move around in but most of all positive. I love to use a theme to reinforce great behavior. I always give the students a choice in helping to design bulletin boards and desk arrangements. When they are involved they take pride in the classroom, and enjoy being there.”

moving forward

After Confederate flag dispute at Colorado football game, schools pledge to bring students together

PHOTO: Marc Piscotty
Manual High students.

Acknowledging “we may never have a conclusive picture of what happened,” two Colorado school districts sought to move past a controversy over whether a Confederate flag was displayed at a football game and open a conversation between the two school communities.

The principal of Manual High, Nick Dawkins, wrote in a community letter over the weekend that the visiting Weld Central High School team “displayed a Confederate flag during the first quarter of the (Friday night) game, offending many members of the Manual community.”

Officials from Denver Public Schools and Weld County School District Re-3J released a joint letter Tuesday saying that based “on what we have learned to date, however, the Weld Central team did not display the Confederate flag.” At the same time, it said, multiple Manual eyewitnesses “reported seeing spectators who attempted to bring a Confederate flag into the game and clothing with flag images.”

Going forward, students from the two schools — one rural and one urban — will participate in a student leadership exchange that has student leaders visit each other’s schools and communities to “share ideas and perspectives,” the letter says.

“At a time in our country when so many are divided, we want our students instead to come together, share ideas and learn together,” says the letter, which is signed by the principals of both schools and the superintendents of both school districts.

The alleged incident took place at a time when issues of race, social injustice, politics and sports are colliding in the United States, making for tough conversations, including in classrooms.

Weld Central’s mascot is a Rebel. Manual, whose mascot is the Thunderbolts, is located in one of Denver’s historically African-American neighborhoods.

Dawkins in his initial community letter also said “the tension created by the flag led to conflict on and off the playing field,” and that three Manual players were injured, including one who went to the hospital with a leg injury. He also said some Manual players reported that Weld Central players “taunted them with racial slurs.”

Weld Central officials vehemently denied that their team displayed the flag. In addition, they said in their own community letter they had “no evidence at this point that any of our student athletes displayed racially motivated inappropriate behavior.”

They said district officials “do not condone any form of racism,” including the Confederate flag.

Weld Central fans told the Greeley Tribune that they didn’t see any Confederate flag.

Read the full text below.