King County prosecutor announces efforts to increase school safety

KCPAO says it plans to better work with schools and districts with legal matters involving students.

On Jan. 23, King County Prosecuting Attorney Leesa Manion announced the launch of her “Safer Schools Strategy,” which seeks to prevent tragedies and support safer schools for school students and staff in King County.

With a focus on interventions at the student, school, district, and statewide levels, this strategy aims 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.”

Statewide coordination efforts in the name of school safety include:

Enhancing coordination with the Washington Office of Superintendent of Public Instruction (OSPI) through membership in its School Safety and Student Well-being Advisory Committee

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.

“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.

Efforts across districts and schools include:

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 the King County Prosecuting Attorney’s Office when there are students of concern.

Jamie Kvistad, Senior Deputy Prosecuting Attorney and Safer Schools Strategy Lead 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 2023, the King County Prosecuting Attorney’s Office held their first Tools for Schools Workshop with training from our office and the Puget Sound Educational Service District.

“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 Kvistad in a statement regarding the office’s efforts. “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.”

Other efforts to increase school safety being made by the prosecuting attorney’s office include:

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.

According to the Mannion’s office, this work is already under way and will continue progressing through 2024 and beyond.