How a Colorado School District Replaced Traditional SROs with School Safety Advocates

After creating an equity council and speaking to various stakeholders, Boulder Valley School District removed SROs and created the school safety advocate role. Here's how.
Published: June 21, 2024

Like many other communities, stakeholders from the Boulder Valley School District (BVSD) began questioning the role of school resources officers (SROs) following the murder of George Floyd. To evaluate whether SROs were right for their district, BVSD hired an external facilitator with expertise in equity and community engagement who developed the BVSD Equity Council (1:37).

“We had over 900 community members that applied to sit on the equity council, and then also we had another group, our district accountability subcommittee, which evaluated the roles of law enforcement in the school district,” said Brendan Sullivan, BVSD’s director of safety, security, and emergency management and a 2024 Campus Safety Director of the Year finalist. “Lots of stakeholder involvement — the DA, police, community members. We had a public defender’s office. A lot of people were sat at the table, were interviewed, were provided an opportunity to talk about their roles in policing, talk about their roles in the criminal justice system, and then an evaluation of how they fit into a K-12 environment.”

After hearing from these various stakeholders, the Board of Education recommended the removal of SROs. With that removal, Sullivan said, came an opportunity to develop an alternative solution. That’s how the school safety advocate (SSA) position was created (2:53).

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“We still had an obligation and a commitment to keep our schools safe, to keep our kids safe, and what did that look like? So we put together basically a roadshow,” he said. “We wanted to seek community input. We had six or seven different community groups that we met with. We wanted to understand, from their perspective, what was important for them. What knowledge, skills, abilities, attributes, character traits, training, et cetera, was necessary for this school safety advocate position to possess to make sure that one, our schools were safe, and two, that there was a good connection with our community, our kids in our schools. So we got a lot of feedback and were able to start developing what the position looked like.”

Largely, the position sought individuals with an emergency management background who had handled a critical incident. They wanted people who knew how to manage a crisis and “the chaos of something bad or potentially bad occurring at a school,” described Sullivan.

Ultimately, the district hired 11 SSAs. Before hiring, the SSAs underwent a month of training, onboarding, shadowing, and a semester of working with the administrative team.

“[They worked together] to make sure that the objectives were being met, understand the roles and responsibilities, understand what they will and won’t do, understand how they can work with our admin teams,” said Sullivan. “They are part of our school admin, so they work closely with them to help make sure that those issues, those high liability and low-frequency events, are being addressed appropriately, being handled correctly.”

School Safety Advocates: Support Mechanisms, Not Enforcement Mechanisms

While SSAs are law enforcement liaisons, they do not recommend, administer, or supervise school discipline — a very intentional design (11:02).

“They’re not licensed to do that, but we specifically didn’t want them to. They’re not an enforcement mechanism. They’re a support mechanism, so we don’t want them ever being the strong arm,” said Sullivan. “They are there to provide the right wraparound services, provide the right resolutions, provide the right recommendations, get the right people to the table to support our students when there may be safety issues with risks to the students or the rest of the schools.”

SSAs do, however, play a role in helping school leaders and administrators approach misconduct (11:47).

“Whether [an incident] turns out to be criminal, whether it turns out to be a greater public safety issue, or whether it turns out to be a bullying event, our SSAs are usually walking hand-in-hand with the site leader or at times taking over the investigations,” described Sullivan. “They have a background in doing that. They’ve spent the majority of their career in that type of role, so they will assist the building leaders in making sure that those events are handled appropriately and thoroughly. In taking care of that, they will send a report to the site leader for them to make a determination on how they want to follow up with whatever sanctions are necessary.”

To help with behavioral concerns, SSAs work with a restorative practices coordinator.

“We found that there’s great value in this. Not everyone that steps out of line has to have the same level of discipline or punishment or whatever you want to say,” Sullivan said. “There are other opportunities to correct behavior and to provide resolution to students who make mistakes, whose behavior doesn’t align with what our expectations are.”

During this interview, Sullivan also shared more about:

  • The training the advocates receive (7:48)
  • How SSAs interface with both law enforcement and school principals (8:52)
  • How BVSD students feel about SSAs (13:29)
  • How BVSD parents feel about SSAs (16:53)

Watch the full interview here or listen to the podcast on the go on Apple or Spotify.


Strategy & Planning Series
Strategy & Planning Series
Strategy & Planning Series
Strategy & Planning Series
Strategy & Planning Series