Discussing long-term safety plan, DPS says of accused East HS shooter: 'We failed him as a district'

Superintendent's decision to reintroduce armed officers comes after several calls for increased security from students, parents
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Posted at 12:22 PM, Mar 23, 2023
and last updated 2023-03-23 21:10:18-04

DENVER – The Denver Public School Board of Education on Thursday suspended a controversial policy that removed school resource officers from campuses across the district, and has directed its superintendent to develop a long-term safety plan by the end of the summer in the wake of a shooting at East High School that left two deans injured and led authorities on an hourslong search for a student suspect who was later found dead.

The announcement came after an emotional special meeting held by the board earlier in the day where they discussed the shooting and how best to respond to calls from frantic parents clamoring for school leadership to do something after the latest in a recent string of violent incidents at East High.

“We all, as educators, came to this profession to support, help students thrive and most importantly, provide them an opportunity to succeed,” said Denver Public Schools Superintendent Dr. Alex Marrero during a news conference following the meeting in which the change in policy was announced. “I can acknowledge that we failed Austin as a district.”

A day earlier, Marrero informed parents, teachers and staff across the district that he was reintroducing armed officers to each of the district’s comprehensive high schools beginning Thursday through the remainder of the school year, despite the fact that doing so likely violated Board of Education policy.

During Thursday’s special meeting, however, the Board made the decision to suspend the policy enacted in 2020, citing “an increase in gun violence within our communities, which poses a threat to the safety of our schools.”

“For us to incur deaths of students is not okay,” said DPS Board President Xóchitl “Sochi” Gaytán. “It really weighs heavily on each of us.”

Marrero now has until June 30 to develop a long-term safety plan based off community input involving students, families, other school leaders and lawmakers before he presents it to the Board for review. The Board will then vote on it prior to the start of the 2023-24 school year.

Gaytán asked for patience as the district works to develop the plan and encouraged the community to provide input and feedback.

The superintendent’s decision to reintroduce armed officers across city high schools follows several calls from East High students and parents to increase security after the shooting death of one of their classmates, 16-year-old Luis Garcia.

Among such calls, East High students advocated for enhanced cameras, added security measures, school resource officers and limited access to campus.

“It’s hard to measure when it is enough to take swift action,” Marrero said when pressed about why it took several violent incidents at or near East High for the district to respond. “It is the 3rd (shooting incident). My 4th visit to Denver Health. But it happened inside our buildings, which is why I decided to act the way I did.”

SROs were removed from Denver Public Schools campuses in 2020 after the Board of Education – led by DPS Vice President Auon’tai Anderson – unanimously voted to end its relationship with the Denver Police Department as the country reeled in the aftermath of the police killing of George Floyd, an unarmed Black man in Minneapolis.

Marrero’s decision to reintroduce armed officers across Denver high schools was met with approval by the Board, though it’s unclear if the decision is supported unanimously by all members.

“The Board of Education supports the decision of Superintendent Marrero to work in partnership with local law enforcement to create safer learning spaces across Denver Public Schools for the remainder of this school year,” members from the board wrote in statement. “In addition, we will continue to work collaboratively with our community partners including law enforcement and our local & state legislature to make our community safer.”

Denver Mayor Michael Hancock also applauded the move, saying this change in direction is the right decision.

“As I made clear to Superintendent Marrero yesterday, we stand ready to help him bring SROs back to our schools,” the mayor said.

Anderson issued a statement on Twitter Thursday evening, calling for the re-imagining of policing in DPS.

"We can not pivot back to a system that did not work for 80% of the students that we serve," the school board vice president said.

It’s unclear what impact bringing SROs back into school buildings will have on curtailing gun violence across Denver schools.

Countless studies have been done on the use of SROs in campuses across the nation, but despite in-depth research, the impact they have on schools remains inconclusive.

Denver7 reporter Bayan Wang contributed to this report.

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