Who Is In Charge

School safety experts to lawmakers: Prevention is vital

The Arapahoe High School shootings fresh in their minds, members of the legislative education committees got a briefing on school safety Wednesday.

Safety experts from the state and two school districts, plus a veteran school resource officer, discussed the issue and took questions from lawmakers. Panel members generally agreed that schools are more secure and better able to respond to threats than they were before the Columbine High School tragedy in 1999.

They also agreed that much work needs to be done on identifying threats before incidents happen and on improving mental health services for troubled students.

“Colorado is a national leader” in school security, said Chief Deputy Assistant Attorney General Cynthia Coffman. The chief challenge for schools is making time for necessary training and drills. “Time is the most scarce resource,” she said.

Rep. Rhonda Fields, D-Aurora, asked what was being done to involve students in school safety. “We are really trying to draw out from students what they would want,” said Christine Harms, director of the Colorado School Safety Resource Center. She surveys indicate that students want more safety drills.

Lawmakers asked Sgt. Douglas Ross, a Longmont Police school resource officer, about the training and possible arming of school security guards and other staff. He also was asked if it’s helpful for schools to use police officers who aren’t necessarily trained as resource officers.

“We’re open to being as creative as we can,” Ross said. But he cautioned that school personnel who carry guns would need extensive training and that resource officers who are trained to work with students are more valuable than police who have no such special preparation.

“Our reservation would be, can we hire the correct people and be able to provide initial and ongoing training?” Ross said.

Rep. Jim Wilson, R-Salida, asked if school employees should carry Mace or pepper spray.

Julie Bolding, a Jeffco school psychologist, replied, “Items that come into schools often change hands. … I would just have the fear that students would misuse that object.”

Samantha Haviland, Denver Public Schools director of counseling support services, said arming teachers is “a reaction, but that’s not going to stop what’s going on in our schools.” More important, she said, “it’s not possible for us to ignore the fact that we are looking at prevention.”

The only school safety bill introduced so far this session is Senate Bill 14-002, which would provide funding for the Safe2tell program and move it into the attorney general’s office.

The program provides a way for students to anonymously provide tips about potential threats. Coffman said reports about depression and suicide now outnumber school threats on Safe2tell.


Aurora’s superintendent will get a contract extension

Aurora Public Schools Superintendent Rico Munn. (Photo by Andy Cross/The Denver Post)

The Aurora school board is offering superintendent Rico Munn a contract extension.

Marques Ivey, the school board president, made the announcement during Tuesday’s regular board meeting.

“The board of education believes we are headed in the right direction,” Ivey said. Munn can keep the district going in the right direction, he added.

The contract extension has not been approved yet. Munn said Tuesday night that it had been sent to his lawyer, but he had not had time to review it.

Munn took the leadership position in Aurora Public Schools in 2013. His current contract is set to expire at the end of June.

Munn indicated he intends to sign the new contract after he has time to review it. If he does so, district leaders expect the contract to be on the agenda of the board’s next meeting, April 3, for a first review, and then for a vote at the following meeting.

Details about the new offer, including the length of the extension or any salary increases, have not been made public.

Four of the seven members currently on the board were elected in November as part of a union-supported slate. Many voiced disapproval of some of the superintendent’s reform strategies such as his invitation to charter school network DSST to open in Aurora.

In their first major vote as a new board, the board also voted against the superintendent’s recommendation for the turnaround of an elementary school, signaling a disagreement with the district’s turnaround strategies.

But while several Aurora schools remain low performing, last year the district earned a high enough rating from the state to avoid a path toward state action.

cooling off

New York City charter leader Eva Moskowitz says Betsy DeVos is not ‘ready for prime time’

PHOTO: Chalkbeat
Success Academy CEO and founder Eva Moskowitz seemed to be cooling her support for U.S. Education Secretary Betsy DeVos.

In New York City, Eva Moskowitz has been a lone voice of support for the controversial U.S. Education Secretary Betsy DeVos. But even Moskowitz appears to be cooling on the secretary following an embarrassing interview.

“I believe her heart is in the right place,” Moskowitz, founder and CEO of Success Academy, said of DeVos at an unrelated press conference. “But as the recent interviews indicate, I don’t believe she’s ready for primetime in terms of answering all of the complex questions that need to be answered on the topic of public education and choice.”

That is an apparent reference to DeVos’s roundly criticized appearance on 60 Minutes, which recently aired a 30-minute segment in which the secretary admits she hasn’t visited struggling schools in her tenure. Even advocates of school choice, DeVos’s signature issue, called her performance an “embarrassment,” and “Saturday Night Live” poked fun at her.  

Moskowitz’s comments are an about-face from when the education secretary was first appointed. While the rest of the New York City charter school community was mostly quiet after DeVos was tapped for the position, Moskowitz was the exception, tweeting that she was “thrilled.” She doubled-down on her support months later in an interview with Chalkbeat.

“I believe that education reform has to be a bipartisan issue,” she said.

During Monday’s press conference, which Success Academy officials called to push the city for more space for its growing network, Moskowitz also denied rumors, fueled by a tweet from AFT President Randi Weingarten, that Success officials had recently met with members of the Trump administration.

Shortly after the election, Moskowitz met with Trump amid speculation she was being considered for the education secretary position. This time around, she said it was “untrue” that any visits had taken place.

“You all know that a while back, I was asked to meet with the president-elect. I thought it was important to take his call,” she said. “I was troubled at the time by the Trump administration. I’m even more troubled now. And so, there has been no such meeting.”