LAKEWOOD, Colo. — A new office in Colorado's Department of Public Safety will help schools prepare for, respond to and recover from emergencies.
The Colorado Office of School Safety (OSS) was officially established within the state's Department of Public Safety (DPS) on July 1 after Colorado Gov. Jared Polis signed bipartisan Senate Bill 23-241 into law on April 27. Christine Harms was appointed director of the OSS on July 15.
The OSS is tasked with:
- Overseeing the Colorado School Safety Resource Center (CSSRC), which is managed by Margaret M. Ochoa
- Implementing the new crisis response unit in the CSSRC, which will train school staff on the best ways to respond to critical incidents and will provide short-term assistance following a crisis
- Overseeing the School Access for Emergency Response Grant Program (SAFER). This was transferred to OSS's responsibilities from the Division of Homeland Security in DPS. The grants unit manager is Charli Pringle-North.
- Administering a Youth Violence Prevention Grant Program to provide grants of up to $100K to schools, community organizations and local governments to combat youth violence
Senate Bill 23-241 was sponsored by Sen. Jeff Bridges, Sen. Barbara Kirkmeyer, Rep. Shannon Bird and Rep. Rod Bockenfeld.
Bipartisan bill aims to create state Office of School Safety
Sen. Bridges said kids can't learn when they don't feel safe.
"School safety is deeply personal to me and my constituents," he said. "This office dramatically expands the capabilities of our existing school safety programs, and puts them together so they have the collaboration, communication, and coordination they need to more effectively keep Colorado kids safe."
Sen. Kirkmeyer added that the state legislature needed to stop just talking about school safety and actually make forward progress.
"The state has an obligation to give our schools and school resource officers the tools and training they need to keep our kids and teachers safe in their schools," she said. "The creation of this office is just the beginning of the legislature finally delivering real, tangible, and positive impacts on school safety."
For the 2023-2024 fiscal year, $25,798,091 was appropriated to DPS for use by the OSS. Of that, about $20,400,000 is from the general fund, $5 million is from the school access for emergency response grant program cash fund, $250,000 from the marijuana tax cash fund, and $146,491 from the school safety resource center cash fund, according to SB 23-241.
The OSS has a Colorado Safe Schools Summit planned for Oct. 19-20, 2023, which will include all three units: CSSRC, the crisis unit and the grants unit.
In 2019, an audit found Colorado's school safety programs were "not centralized" and not required to work together. The audit reported the programs create a risk of "uncoordinated efforts, gaps in services, and challenges in determining reach and impact." Senate Bill 23-241 was introduced in an effort to change that.
Gov. Polis announced in February 2022 that one of his top priorities is making Colorado one of the top 10 safest states in the country. This included improving school safety.