Skip to main content

Cottonwood Heights Journal

Canyons District’s approach to keeping students safe

Apr 04, 2018 12:57PM ● By Josh Wood

By Joshua Wood | [email protected]


The Feb. 14 shooting at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School in Parkland, Florida, has brought school safety and student freedom of expression to the forefront of public debate. Canyons School District has recently implemented a variety of measures to keep students in the area’s schools safe. The district has also taken measures to afford students ways to express their concerns about school safety.

As students across the country have participated in walkouts to show their concerns about gun violence and safety in schools, Canyons School District has worked to find ways for students to participate in similar events while maintaining order in its schools. The district’s strategy has involved providing safe places and additional police security for walkout events on March 14 and again on April 20.

“We respect students’ first amendment rights to express themselves,” said Jeff Haney, director of the Canyons School District’s Office of Public Communications. “We also want to preserve instruction time. Safe places are provided for students to participate in short demonstrations, while school goes on as normal for those not participating.”

The District planned for additional police presence at schools on the days of expected demonstrations.

In addition to planning for these events, Canyons School District has developed a strategy for combating and preventing violence in schools. One element of this approach involves how visitors can enter and access schools.

“Any visitor must go through the front doors and check in,” said Haney. “Visitors must have an appointment, and even volunteers who have registered in advance must check in.”

Most schools in the district have been equipped with security vestibules, which require people to go into the office before being buzzed through the doors to enter the school. Schools that are scheduled to be built or remodeled using funds from the recent voter-approved bond will also be equipped with security vestibules.

State law requires all volunteers in schools to go through rigorous background checks. All teachers and support staff must also pass background checks.

In addition to secure entrances, schools in the district are equipped with security cameras. “There isn’t a time when we can’t see what’s happening in our schools,” Haney said. “We have access to real-time and archived footage.”

All police departments with jurisdiction within the district’s boundaries have partnerships with Canyons School District to provide resource officers at all of its schools.

“This is a huge help in sending a message to the community and building relationships with students,” Haney said. “So students feel like they can go up to them and tell them if something is happening.”

Cottonwood Heights Police Department has been actively involved in the city’s schools.

“We have extremely good coverage with our officers and get in there with teachers to solve problems and to foresee any problems,” said Sgt. Ryan Shosted. “I feel lucky because we have such good guys in there.”

In partnership with University of Utah Healthcare, students also have access to the SafeUT app. “The SafeUT Crisis Text and Tip Line is a statewide service that provides real-time crisis intervention to youth through texting and a confidential tip program — right from your smartphone,” according to University of Utah Healthcare.

Through the app over the past year, students have relayed 10–12 tips per day concerning the well-being of friends or of students who could cause harm to another student. “This is a way for students to be the eyes and ears of schools,” Haney said.

As the district works to build its new schools, committees providing input on the projects have insisted on additional security measures in the design of the new facilities. The new Alta, Brighton and Hillcrest High Schools will have security vestibules like other recently built schools as well as hallways with clear lines of sight to entrances.

Concern for student safety continues to grow with each instance of violence. Preventing future incidents will require continued vigilance on a number of levels, from policy, school design, and resource officers to parents and students themselves.