King County Prosecuting Attorney Leesa Manion Announces Safer Schools Strategy

Today, King County Prosecuting Attorney Leesa Manion announced the launch of her “Safer Schools Strategy” — which seeks to prevent tragedies and support safer schools for all King County children. With a focus on interventions at the student, school/district, and statewide levels, this strategy seeks to make new safety resources available to schools and strengthen the coordination needed to improve school safety.

“Safe schools are a fundamental promise we as a society make to our young people, their families, our teachers and other school professionals,” said King County Prosecuting Attorney Leesa Manion. “The King County Prosecuting Attorney’s Office must do its part to deliver on that promise, and by expanding the tools available to our school officials and enhancing coordination at every level, this new strategy will help do just that.”

“As a Prosecuting Attorney in the Juvenile Division, a former Public Defender, and a parent, I have seen firsthand the evolving challenges our young people are facing,” said Jamie Kvistad, Senior Deputy Prosecuting Attorney and Safer Schools Strategy Lead. “Whether it is preventing firearm violence, tracing threats on social media, or addressing the effects of social isolation that occurred during the pandemic, the Safer Schools Strategy will take steps to meet this new moment for our young people.”

“Lake Washington School District enjoys a strong partnership with the King County Prosecutors Office,” said Scott Emry, Director, Risk and Safety Services, Lake Washington School District. “Through this partnership we are able to look at each case and evaluate the individual circumstances, which results in more positive outcomes for the student. Our shared goal is to keep students in school with the needed interventions that enable them to be successful in their education.”

“The partnership between KCPAO and ASD reflects a mutual investment in the success of our students, staff, and community through creative problem-solving, strategic communication, and belief in the potential of our youth and their future,” said Ashley Boyd, Assistant Director for Prevention and Intervention Services, Auburn School District.

Additional details on the King County Prosecuting Attorney’s Office Safer Schools Strategy are below:

Statewide Action

  • Enhancing coordination with the Washington Office of Superintendent of Public Instruction (OSPI) through membership in its School Safety and Student Well-being Advisory Committee
  • Senior Deputy Prosecuting Attorney and Safer Schools Strategy Lead Jamie Kvistad spoke at the Annual School Safety Summit (in May 2023) about the dangers of social media and the need for statewide educational awareness curriculum.
  • Launching a workgroup of juvenile prosecutors across Washington State to share best practices and challenges involved in prosecuting school safety cases.
  • Partnering with law enforcement to identify best practices in nationwide trends in youth violence.

District & School Action

  • Providing background on juvenile justice practices and procedures for School Resource Officers and school personnel.
  • Proactively communicating with security and administration personnel for each district to collaborate as appropriate. As a result of this increased engagement, some schools have begun reaching out to Kvistad when there are students of concern.
  • Kvistad is serving on Security Advisory Committees/Threat Assessment Teams for school districts to ensure there is direct representation from the King County Prosecuting Attorney’s Office.
  • In Winter of 2023, the King County Prosecuting Attorney’s Office held our first Tools for Schools Workshop with training from our office and the Puget Sound Educational Service District.

Individual Student Action

  • Taking new steps to reduce information silos by notifying schools of students with pending felony firearm charges to improve safety planning. This change was implemented in late 2023, and 30 youths have been identified with notification made to school authorities whenever possible.
  • Increasing communication between schools and probation regarding high-risk, high-need students on supervision and conditions of release with the court.
  • Kvistad’s current caseload includes all King County school threat and safety cases and other school related offenses.
  • Kvistad advises and consults with law enforcement officers on potential referrals to assist with threat assessment and reduce delays.

Timeline

This work is already under way and will continue progressing through 2024 and beyond.

Background on Safety Concerns in Schools

Engaging in school is one of the most important protective factors for children, and safety in schools contributes to increased attendance, productive learning, and legal compliance. As a result of the pandemic, Seattle School District alone estimates thousands of students were subsequently absent from enrollment. This disruption highlights the urgent need for schools to create a secure learning environment that meets students’ diverse academic, social and emotional needs. Achieving safety in schools and supporting students requires a comprehensive approach that addresses mental health issues, exposure to gun violence, substance use disorders, social media influence, and economic instability.

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