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Superintendent: Safe schools must focus on ‘the antecedence to school violence’

How Eagle County Schools is prioritizing and promoting school safety

In lieu of his typical Superintendent Report, Eagle County Schools Superintendent Philip Qualman addressed the board to talk about the recent tragic events in Uvalde, Texas, and the importance of school safety.
High Five Access Media/Screenshot

On Tuesday, May 24, a gunman killed at least 19 children and two teachers at Robb Elementary School in Uvalde, Texas.

Eagle County Schools’ Superintendent Philip Qualman addressed the shooting — which has been denoted as the deadliest in America since the massacre at Sandy Hook Elementary in 2012 — and reflected on what it means to create safe schools in these troubling times at the district’s Board of Education meeting Wednesday night.

“Safe schools are the product of complex systems that work together to focus on the health of the whole child, and the security of the facility and the level of safety in our schools; reflect the value our society places on our most precious and vulnerable citizens,” Qualman said.



Qualman began his remarks on Wednesday by reflecting on the start of his own education career, which began around the same time as the school shooting at Columbine High School.

“In April 1999, I was a student teacher at Durango High School when the Columbine shooting occurred. At the time, it was impossible to comprehend the horror of that event. Yet, I was able to convince myself that it was an anomaly and it wasn’t something likely to be a regular occurrence in our schools. I had to believe that if I intended to be a teacher,” Qualman said.



He recounted how it felt one year after Columbine to visit the Lakewood school and see the fresh drywall and paint at the library entrance.

“23 years ago, I would have never imagined that dry wall and a coat of paint would be a metaphor for how our country would address the issues of school shootings in the decades to come,” he said. “There’s been 15 mass shooting events in Colorado since Columbine. There’s been five fatal shootings in Colorado schools since Columbine. All told, 331 schools and over 300,000 students have been traumatized by gun violence in American schools since Columbine.”

“Faced with those startling statistics, I don’t know if my 22 year-old self would have been so eager to become a teacher,” he added.

Later, Qualman acknowledged that during his 20 years in K-12 education, “some pretty scary things” have been added to educator training. He went on to list school shooter drills, training and trauma informed care, major bleed kit training and suicide prevention as just some examples of this shift.

A comprehensive strategy

As Qualman recounted receiving a note from a mother of three students in Eagle County Schools, he then addressed how the district has moved to ensure student safety across all its school campuses. He called the district’s strategy “comprehensive,” consisting of three-prongs: structural changes, partnerships with law enforcement and pre-emptive measures.

“To honor those lost at Robb Elementary School, Sandy Hook Elementary School, Virginia Tech University, Stoneman Douglas High School, Columbine High School and hundreds of others too long to list, we have to expand the discussion beyond gun control. We have to recognize that it takes a lot more than secure entrances and beefed up gun laws to make schools safe,” Qualman said.

The structural changes included ensuring secure entrances with cameras and monitoring from front office staff, practicing emergency drills, training students and staff to be engaged in their safety, as well as improving threat assessment procedures at its campuses.

The district also leverages its relationships with law enforcement, which has included adding more school resource officers in recent years.

“The purpose of SROs is to build relationships with students and staff and be a resource to school administrators as it relates to the safety and security of each campus,” he said.

In the wake of the Robb Elementary tragedy, while the district did not request additional presence, certain agencies did increase their visibility at schools on Wednesday. In a post to its Facebook page, Eagle Police Department said “there will be extra presence from Eagle Police Department officers at local schools for the remainder of the school year.”

While Qualman acknowledged the importance of these changes and partnerships, he said the bulk of the districts efforts in building safe schools was to address first “the antecedence to school violence.”

“Much of the rhetoric in the past 24 hours has focused on common sense gun laws and standing up to the gun lobby. There may be value in amending gun laws, but that’s akin to re-writing the end of a story to provide a happy ending, while ignoring all the terrible chapters that led up to the tragic ending,” he said. “We have to talk about antecedence to acts of terror. We have to address root causes, we have to have the courage to rewrite the early chapters before we hope for happy endings.”

These chapters, he followed included challenges like isolation, bullying, anger, depression, abuse, neglect, self-harm and hopelessness.

“We commit time and resources to making sure every child feels welcome and celebrated for who they are,” Qualman said. “To do that, our teachers are trained to develop inclusive and respectful learning environments. We believe and owe model that every child regardless of color, language, race, gender or sexuality or any lens of difference is to be celebrated for who they are.”

He also listed programs and partnerships that help promote kindness including its recent focus on social-emotional wellness for students with things like a universal screener, surveys to measure student wellbeing, leveraging its partnership with Your Hope Center, promoting student voice and more.

“We’ll do the job with whatever tools we’re given. We’re up to the challenge of teaching students academic content and supporting their social emotional needs. But to be safe and successful, our students need to be prioritized, our schools need to be revered and our educators need to be respected,” he added.

For a list of resources to assist parents in talking about violence and tragedy, visit EagleSchools.net.


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