AURORA, Colo. (CBS4) - After weeks of violent incidents involving Aurora youth, including two shootings at or near high school campuses, Aurora Public Schools enacted additional security measures on high school campuses Monday.
"We are very concerned about gun violence, youth violence that is happening in our community," said Rico Munn, Superintendent of Aurora Public Schools.
The changes include moving all high schools to closed campuses through at least winter break. That means students won't be able to go to their cars during the day or leave for lunch.
Munn said the open campus policy has been in place for at least 12 years. Each school has worked on its own plan to enforce the temporary change and facilitate any logistical needs.
Students leaving for classes at the Community College of Aurora or Pickens Technical College and students leaving the school with parent or guardian permission are among those exempt from the rule.
"We want to make sure we take precautions and not overreact, and I think our students and our families understand that," Munn said.
APS is also coordinating with Aurora Police to increase security on and near high school campuses. Munn said the district is adding additional mental health resources at school as well.
The challenge after that will be identifying long-term ways to address the growing concern of youth violence.
"All of these things have been happening very quickly and very recently and trying to understand, 'are there issues of gang violence? Are there issues of retribution? Are there issues of lack of opportunity that kids are seeing?'" Munn said. "All of those things may be in play, and we're still learning that and want to respond as appropriate."
Jason McBride, who works on violence prevention and intervention with the nonprofit Struggle of Love Foundation said the move by APS was "the right thing to do," even though other students not involved in the violence will also have to follow the stricter rules.
Long-term, he hopes the district works with more community groups to focus on solutions to address the inequities that can be root causes of violent behavior.
"Our schools don't have the facilities that other schools in other communities have," McBride said. "We need better libraries; we need equitable curriculum when it comes to what is being taught in our schools. That will help us fight other issues we're having in our community."
Munn says the district is currently working with community groups to understand the problem and implement solutions, including intervention measures. He pointed out that the district has also significantly increased mental health support across all schools, thanks to a mill levy override approved by voters in 2018.
Still, the issue at hand is evolving, and so must the response.
"What none of us counted on was a pandemic and the overall increase in dysregulation among our students, the increase in behavioral and mental health issues," Munn said. "Our own local Children's Hospital called this a mental health crisis, so there's no doubt that our system, as well as all the other systems is overwhelmed by the need out there, but we're trying to step in up response to the particular issue that's happening with youth violence."
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