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Rise & Shine: Schools are closed amid the search for a woman ‘infatuated with Columbine’

Good morning.

This is a strange and unfortunate day, and I hate it. I hate that a single person with a twisted idea can cancel school for hundreds of thousands of children in more than two dozen Colorado school districts.

That was the difficult decision that superintendents across the Denver metro area and as far afield as Bennet and Clear Creek made overnight in consultation with law enforcement. Even before the decision, many parents on social media were announcing their intentions to keep their children home as a manhunt for Sol Pais continues.

The FBI says that Pais is "infatuated" with the Columbine shooting, whose 20th anniversary is Saturday, and that she bought a gun and ammunition after traveling from Florida to Colorado. Authorities said Pais was last seen near Columbine — in the Jefferson County foothills outside Denver — wearing a black T-shirt, camouflage pants and black boots. If you see her or have any information, please call the FBI tip line at 303-630-6227.

Threats against schools in general and against Columbine in particular are, unfortunately, a common feature of the anniversary week. The initial response of school district officials and law enforcement was to place many Jeffco Public Schools on lockout. One Denver school, Grant Ranch ECE-8, near the Jeffco border, also went on lockout around 1 p.m.

Mid-afternoon, the Colorado Department of Education took the unusual step of tweeting that the Department of Public Safety had asked all metro area schools to go on lockout and conduct a controlled release at the end of the school day, putting these school safety decisions squarely in the public eye. Many districts quickly tweeted out their own responses: schools on lockout and an increased police presence during dismissal.

The response from Denver Public Schools came late and in a confusing manner, leaving many parents frustrated. District spokesman Will Jones told me that Denver's safety officials had been working closely with Jeffco throughout the day.

"We always want to do things in a manner that doesn't cause panic," Jones said. "Our Department of Safety has great relationships with law enforcement, and we made the decisions we felt were in the best interest of our students and families."

But parents didn't receive any communication from the district via text, robocall, or email until hours after the education department's tweet. And when the message did go out, it stated that "many" Denver schools were on lockout, something that Jones confirmed to me was inaccurate. Only one school was formally on lockout, though Jones noted that all Denver schools are locked during the school day.

Teachers also complained that they learned of the potential threat on social media, and many people saw students holding sports practice outside as normal, even though the district said all afterschool activities had been moved inside.

Jones said the district is working with its technology department to figure out why parent communication was delayed. Whatever happened, it's clear there was not a consistent message to all Denver schools about how to handle the situation.

Below, we've got the latest on the search for Sol Pais, a complete list of school closures, and stories on the lasting impact of the Columbine shooting.

Melanie also has a story on the Denver teachers union's leadership election, and Ann has a roundup of teacher perspective on a new law limiting suspensions for the youngest elementary school students.

Read on.

— Erica Meltzer, bureau chief

SAFETY THREAT Schools across the Denver metro area are closed Wednesday as authorities search for an 18-year-old woman named Sol Pais who traveled from Florida to Denver and has made unspecified threats to schools. Pais is reportedly “infatuated” with the Columbine shooting, the 20th anniversary of which is Saturday. She bought a shotgun and ammunition after arriving in Colorado. Chalkbeat Denver Post Colorado Public Radio 9 News ABC 7 Fox 31

Find a complete list of school closures here. Denver Post

LASTING LEGACY The students who survived Columbine are now parents themselves. Here’s how they talk to their children about lockdown drills and how they manage their own fears. The Atlantic

These Columbine survivors became educators. The 74

Principals whose schools experienced mass shootings have formed a support group to help each other deal with the unimaginable. Ed Week

Polls find a majority of Americans believe schools have become less safe in the two decades since Columbine. Associated Press via KUNC

UNION ELECTION On the heels of a three-day teacher strike that resulted in big changes in how Denver educators are paid, a young teacher who was a leader during the strike is challenging the longtime union president, who helped shepherd the deal. The union’s swelling ranks give it more influence at a time of transition for the state’s largest district. Chalkbeat

TEACHER PERSPECTIVE A bill that would limit the circumstances in which schools could suspend their youngest students needs just one more vote in the Senate before it heads to the governor’s desk. We asked teachers what they thought. Some said it was a much-needed change, while others said it might cause them to leave the profession. One thing that stood out: Teachers need more resources to deal with students’ emotional challenges. Chalkbeat

EQUAL ACCESS Computer science education geared toward girls and students of color would get a $250,000 boost under a bill approved by the House Education Committee Tuesday. Applicants for the grant program will be given priority for showing how they plan to serve underrepresented students and expose students to examples of diversity. Chalkbeat

MOVERS AND SHAKERS Several of Colorado’s most prominent early childhood groups are getting new leaders this year. Chalkbeat

FOREST LEARNING The Durango School District will offer an outdoor preschool next year, in which children will spend the majority of their time playing and learning in nature. Durango Herald

As we previously reported, forest preschools are a growing phenomenon in the United States, but they’ve struggled to reach diverse families. Chalkbeat

PERSISTENT DISPARITIES A new report on student discipline in Aurora Public Schools finds that suspensions and expulsions have dropped significantly, but black students are still far more likely to face serious punishment than their Hispanic and white peers. Aurora Sentinel