UNC Researcher Co-Authors Report Offering Recommendations for Improving School Safety

A University of Northern Colorado associate professor co-authored a report released today that provides 32 recommendations for improving school safety after analyzing a 2013 fatal school shooting.

Sarah GoodrumSarah Goodrum and her University of Colorado colleague Bill Woodward collaborated on the independent fact-finding report. Their research examined the events and circumstances leading up to the December 2013 shooting at Arapahoe High School that left two students, Claire Davis and the shooter, fellow student Karl Pierson, dead.

The report is the result of a grant from the Arapahoe High School Community Fund Honoring Claire Davis, a donor-advised fund of The Denver Foundation, which sought to understand the school's threat and risk assessment procedures and responses, and identify the lessons learned to improve youth violence prevention in schools across Colorado and the U.S.

"We have many of the tools needed to prevent violence and support students in crisis," Goodrum said, "but we lack a system that encourages the consistent and effective use of those tools in school settings. It is time to build that system."

While noting the progress that has been made at Arapahoe and in the school district, the report provides 32 recommendations for improving school safety. Those recommendations include:

  • Consistent use by key school staff of a student information system, such as Infinite Campus, to document matters of "public safety concern." That includes student behavior concerns, conduct violations, interventions, academic issues, threat assessment results, and safety and support action plans.
  • Annual trainings for students and staff on how to use the anonymous threat reporting system Safe2Tell.
  • Completion of an Interagency Information Sharing Agreement with community agencies, including those in law enforcement, mental health, social services and criminal justice.
  • Implementation of validated risk and threat assessment processes in schools and use of these results to build a safety and support plan for any student who shows high risk for violent behavior.
  • Use of the U.S. Secret Service's six principles and 11 questions to evaluate early warning signs, risk factors and protective factors during a threat assessment.
  • Development of a continuous improvement model of error review to promote a school culture of safety and minimize "groupthink" where staff can report concerns without fear of reprisal.
  • An audit of any school or district requesting one by the Colorado School Safety Resource Center for proper use of Virginia Student Threat Assessment Guidelines (V-STAG) or other validated threat and risk assessment processes. Any school or district that has implemented a validated process and receives a "high pass" in an audit could use the results as an affirmative defense in any proceeding under legislation passed last year making Colorado public schools legally liable for student safety and waiving governmental immunity in cases of violence.
  • Annual update of the Colorado School Violence Prevention and School Discipline Manual by the Colorado Attorney General's Office, annual training by school districts on all statutes related to school safety and violence prevention and creation of annual compliance reports by Colorado school districts.

The grant for the project from the Denver Foundation was provided to CU-Boulder's Center for the Study and Prevention of Violence. Goodrum, who is faculty chair of Criminal Justice at UNC, is also a research associate with the center. UNC Criminal Justice graduate student Andrew Thompson worked as a research assistant on the project.

The full report is available here.