Published: Jan. 18, 2016

The Center for the Study and Prevention of Violence (CSPV) at the University of Colorado Boulder today released an independent fact-finding report examining the events and circumstances leading to the 2013 fatal shooting at Arapahoe High School and offering recommendations for improvements in school safety.

The report is the final product of research conducted pursuant to the grant from the Arapahoe High School Community Fund Honoring Claire Davis, a donor-advised fund of The Denver Foundation, and 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 United States.

The Dec. 13, 2013, shooting left senior Claire Davis on life support for eight days before she died. Shooter and fellow student Karl Pierson died after turning a gun on himself.

Co-principal investigator Bill Woodward, director of training and technical assistance at CSPV, noted, “We hope this report can shed light on this tragic event and help not only Arapahoe High School but all schools in Colorado embrace systems and processes that can result in a safer school climate and prevent something like this from happening again.”

The report cites several missed opportunities to share information about and intervene with Pierson. Specifically, school administrators and staff failed to: document behavior and safety concerns through the school’s student information system, Infinite Campus; train students and staff in the anonymous reporting system Safe2Tell; and implement an Interagency Information Sharing Agreement to exchange vital information about students of concern with law enforcement and other community agencies.

The report also cites Littleton Public Schools’ failure to adequately implement the district’s threat assessment policies and to validate its threat assessment tool and process.

Finally, the report lists 27 decisions that may have contributed to a breakdown in communication about, and responses to, the threat posed by Pierson. These decisions included not building a safety and support action plan for him after incidents of elementary school violence; not following up on the shooter’s claims of being bullied or of others’ reports of him being a bully; not suspending him for threatening to kill his debate coach; not supporting him when his grades dropped; and not informing the threat assessment team about his viewing of guns and mass shootings online.

Co-principal investigator Sarah Goodrum, faculty associate at CSPV and associate professor and chair of the Department of Criminal Justice at the University of Northern Colorado said, “Sixteen years after Columbine, we still seem to be struggling to fully implement the reforms recommended by the Columbine Commission. Our hope is that we will not have to wait another sixteen years, or the next school shooting, to take action on the recommendations provided in the Arapahoe report.”

Woodward said that both the school district and the high school have made positive changes in their approach to school safety since the shooting and those changes are noted in the report.

“Those changes represent important steps in the right direction,” Woodward said. “However, a great deal of progress still needs to be made.”

Goodrum said, “We have many of the tools needed to prevent violence and support students in crisis, 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.”

The report includes 32 recommendations for improving school safety, including:

  • Consistent use by key school staff of a student information system, such as Infinite Campus, to document matters of “public safety concern,” including 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 report represents the final step in an investigative arbitration agreement the Davis family reached with Littleton Public Schools. The data used in the report came from the Arapahoe County Sheriff’s Office, Littleton Public Schools interrogatory responses, deposition exhibits and deposition testimony.

The Center for the Study and Prevention of Violence is housed in the Institute of Behavioral Science at CU-Boulder. Visit the CSPV website for the report.

Malinda Miller-Huey, CU-Boulder news director, 303-999-7808

“We hope this report can shed light on this tragic event and help not only Arapahoe High School but all schools in Colorado embrace systems and processes that can result in a safer school climate and prevent something like this from happening again,” said Bill Woodward, director of training and technical assistance at CSPV.