The level of dysfunction in Arapahoe High School and Littleton Public Schools as revealed in a 141-page report about the December 2013 shooting that left two students dead is shocking.
And not only dysfunction. School and district officials dug in their heels and stalled the police investigation after the tragedy, a Denver Post article has revealed, raising questions about administrators' motives and priorities.
The district is lucky the parents of 17-year-old Claire Davis, who was murdered, were willing to forgo litigation in pursuit of the truth.
The lengthy report by University of Colorado's Center for the Study and Prevention of Violence found a succession of failures — from communications gaps to shortcomings in the school's threat assessment process — that led up to the fatal shooting of Davis and the suicide of her attacker, 18-year-old Karl Pierson.
The report found staffers and school officials did not keep files of Pierson's increasingly concerning behaviors, didn't share information because of a misunderstanding of federal student privacy laws, didn't follow the district's own threat assessment protocol, and created a culture of silence.
It would be easy to pretend these sorts of cascading errors and oversights are isolated to this school and district. That is assuredly not the case. Officials in every school should read the report and look thoroughly at their own threat assessment protocols, communications and how they deal with their own troubled students.
"The angry young man that murdered our daughter was a student in crisis who desperately needed guidance in a different direction," wrote the parents of Claire Davis in the first pages of the report. "The lesson to learn is not that our schools should be less tolerant and more punitive, rather that our schools are now, as never before, in a unique position to identify and secure help for troubled students."
Michael and Desiree Davis deserve credit for pushing for the report. The couple had every right to be angry and to pursue litigation. Instead, they successfully pushed for legislation to allow for future school lawsuits in cases of violence and a bill to create a legislative committee to study how to increase school safety.
They also entered into an arbitration agreement with the district to allow for the investigation that culminated in the release of the report last week.
"The goal of this report and the entire arbitration process was to encourage this change in thinking about our public schools — to challenge parents, administrators, teachers and legislators to embrace a caring, tolerant and compassionate culture that empowers our schools to intervene and help kids in crisis," wrote the Davises.
The report shows the school and district still have not addressed many of the issues and points to an "unhealthy organizational system" that needs to be corrected.
The Davises are right. The lessons of the report should be studied by educators everywhere as a way to help students in crises while keeping their peers safe.
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