Positive School Environment Cited as Main Factor in School Safety

Community members in new study question effectiveness of rigid physical security measures in public schools

DENVER – The Colorado Education Association and Padres & Jóvenes Unidos presented a study today on best practices to improve school climate to legislative members of the bipartisan Colorado School Safety. The findings reflect ongoing community engagement and research from both organizations on how school safety is positively impacted by a welcoming school culture.

“Safety is the overriding concern on the minds of educators every school day and we consider the health and well-being of our students in everything we do for them. Including community and educator voice is critical to getting school safety right and we hope the lessons presented today will give the committee members a community perspective to guide their important work as we all do our best to make the public school the absolute safest place for our kids to learn and thrive,” said CEA President Amie Baca-Oehert, a high school counselor.

The new report School Climate and School Safety: A Community Perspective concludes a positive school environment improves safety and learning in our public schools. CEA and Padres & Jóvenes Unidos presented the community vision for how educators, administrators and policymakers can work together to decrease incidents of school-based violence by following three major recommendations to cultivate a welcoming school culture:

  1. Integrate Schools into the Community
    Schools should be spaces where all members of the school and school community feel welcome.
  2. Focus on Social-Emotional Learning
    At a minimum, increase the number of counselors, social workers, and mental health professionals.
  3. Create Authentic Engagement Between Community and Policymakers
    Policymakers often focus school safety discussions on physical security and making schools into hardened targets, but community members (especially students) said these measures make students feel less safe. This highlights a disconnect between how policymakers view school safety and what community members, students and educators know is best.

School culture is a great concern to Lorena Limón, a Padres member and parent of five children who described in the study how quickly small issues can escalate into interactions with police enforcing rigid school discipline policies. “The environment in many of our schools is toxic and criminalizes students of color,” she said.

Restorative practices are an effective alternative to police interaction, according to Kathy Zaleski, a teacher in Adams 12. “I use restorative circles in my class that allow students to understand classmates’ perspectives and connect on shared experiences. Teachers using restorative practices often have success improving the classroom climate and ending the toxic culture.”

The report recommendations mirror consensus on the importance of school climate in school security that both CEA and Padres & Jóvenes Unidos have seen over time as they have engaged members and community allies.

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