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Denver Public Schools Board of Education supports decision to reintroduce school resource officers

Yellow police tape in the foreground that reads "Denver Police - Do Not Cross" with officials walking on the grounds in the background in front of an out of focus East High School building.
Robyn Vincent
/
KUNC
After securing the perimeter with police tape, officials walked the grounds and held a press conference at East High School where a student shot two school administrators on Wednesday, March 22, 2023.

After several hours behind closed doors and in an executive session Thursday afternoon, the Denver Public Schools Board of Education unanimously voted to approve the re-introduction of school resource officers back into schools district-wide through the end of the school year with a directive that Superintendent Dr. Alex Marrero also work to create a safety plan for the district.

Board President Xochitl Gaytan emotionally expressed a sense of urgency in making the decision. “There has been a societal failure...and for us to incur death of students is not okay," said Gaytan in reference to not only Wednesday’s shooting at East High School that led to two school administrators being wounded by a student who later died by suicide, but also the death of 16-year old student Luis Garcia on February 13 just outside of the school. The failure to help all students in crisis weighed heavily on the board and its decision, Gaytan noted.

"The Board of Education hereby directs Superintendent Alex Marrero to work collaboratively with Mayor Michael Hancock and other elected officials to advocate, to offer and externally fund as many as two armed police officers and as many as two additional mental health professionals social workers, school psychologist, psychotherapist and or therapist, and to include but not limited to that group, family and or art therapy and all high schools for the remainder of the 2023 school year," said School Board Vice President Auon'tai Anderson during the open session of the board meeting.

On Thursday East High School students met once again at the state capitol to confront lawmakers and support gun violence bills that are on this session’s docket. East High School student Clara Taub said she’s sensitive to the arguments that were made to remove SROs, a decision that was made by the district in 2020 in a reaction to the murder of George Floyd, but she thinks they belong back in schools.

Clara Taub, co-president of Students Demand Action at East High School, speaks with classmates and the press during a protest at the Colorado State Capitol on Thursday, March 23.

“It's hard to work around, especially because it… it sounds like you're fighting violence with violence, but really what we're doing is we're fighting violence with some sort of order,said Taub.

DPS canceled classes district-wide for Friday, March 24 ahead of a week-long Spring Break closure, telling parents in a letter and text message that they are hoping to support families, students and staff who need a mental health day. The district will also get more time to organize and re-evaluate how to move forward with the changes.

During the press conference Marrero was asked about the district’s decision to allow the student, Austin Lyle, to attend East High School if he needed to be put through a safety and security check every day. Marrero shared that the district was not aware of this particular student’s past, but that administrator’s at East High School knew and had been working with Lyle. Marrero went on to say that the number of students in the district who require a plan that includes a pat down process each day “is fluid” and changes from day to day as students come and go from the district. He added that an armed school resource officer would never pat down or search a student without probable cause but that it is normal for an administrator or teacher who has permission from a student or parent to perform that kind of a search.

Gaytan said the board plans to visit all communities across the district to get feedback from students and families as they move forward to determine the best policies for the district.

Lyle was found and reported dead by suicide early this morning near Bailey, Colo. by the Park County Coroner after running from the scene of the shooting and remaining at large on Wednesday.

As a general assignment reporter and backup host, I gather news and write stories for broadcast, and I fill in to host for Morning Edition or All Things Considered when the need arises.
I am the Rural and Small Communities Reporter at KUNC. That means my focus is building relationships and telling stories from under-covered pockets of Colorado.
I’m the Statehouse Reporter at KUNC, which means I help make sense of the latest developments at the Colorado State Capitol. I cover the legislature, the governor, and government agencies.
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