DENVER — Two shootings involving East High School punctuated the end of the 2022-2023 school year and sparked a conversation — sometimes heated — that has carried through the summer to the beginning of a new school year.
Two deans were shot by a student at East High School in March 2022. Weeks before, 16-year-old East student Luis Garcia was shot near the school. He succumbed to his injuries after a 17-day fight for his life.
After the March shooting, the Denver Public Schools (DPS) Board of Education suspended a policy that removed school resource officers (SROs) from campuses and tasked Superintendent Alex Marrero with creating a safety plan. Under the plan, SROs will be placed at the district's comprehensive schools.
With the new school year set to begin on Aug. 21, questions and concerns remain regarding the officers and their renewed role in the district.
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Parents have mixed ideas about SROs in their children's schools.
Ashlee, who did not provide her last name, is the mother of an incoming sophomore at East High School.
“For me, right off the bat, it gave me a sense of comfort after everything that happened this year,” she said.
Andy Sense, a DPS dad and teacher in Aurora Public Schools, said school safety does not mean "that we harden schools" or bring more guns inside.
No matter where parents have landed on the issue, few are completely comfortable with the idea of armed SROs.
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“I don’t care what anyone says, that’s a trigger for anybody,” said DPS mom Deronn Turner. “That’s a trigger for me — and I’m a grown woman.”
One of the most frustrating questions for parents is the lack of clarity about the roles and responsibilities of the officers. In a letter to Denver7, the Denver Police Department said the program is "still a work in progress.”
At least one SRO will be assigned to each of the following campuses:
- East High School (two officers)
- West High School
- North High School
- South High School
- Manual High School
- Thomas Jefferson High School
- George Washington High School
- Abraham Lincoln High School
- John F. Kennedy High School
- Montbello High School
- Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. Early College
- Northfield High School
- Evie Dennis Campus
East High School will have two SROs because it is the largest high school in the district, DPS said.
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Roles and responsibilities
Each SRO will participate in 40 hours of basic training, which the DPD said satisfies Colorado requirements. But when Denver7 asked several parents about it, it was difficult to find a parent who agreed with those basic standards.
"40 hours of training — that’s a week," Turner said.
"40 hours is not a lot," Ashlee said.
There’s little information publicly available about the responsibilities of those officers other than vague descriptions like de-escalation, conflict resolution and crisis intervention.
"Just like everything else, as a parent with DPS, we don’t have a clear path," Ashlee said. "It all makes us feel like stuff is being hidden."
Turner said she felt like DPD was not being transparent with parents.
“For me, if you can’t let me know what you’re doing down to the letter, then no, I’m not comfortable with you being in the school around my child. Period," she said.
Turner and others said the uneasiness around SROs is a problem that dates back decades and stems from the historic precedence of inequitable treatment of students of color.
"They haven’t protected or served our Black and brown children at all," Turner said. “And they’re not doing a very good job protecting and serving our white children, especially if they don’t have a certain economic reality. As a Black person, I can tell you, it’s not easy for us to trust systems because systems have continually failed us, and re-traumatized our children over and over and over again.”
She’s also critical of parents demanding this change now, calling it a performative and reactive response to the violence.
“For people to yell and shout, ‘We need to make our kids safe’ — a lot of it is they’re coming to the table in the 11th hour," Turner said. "They weren’t here from day one. I have grown children who went through the DPS system. For people to step out and say, ‘It’s the school board — it’s chaos.’ That’s not right because we, as parents and community members, have a responsibility to make sure we’re doing the work. We can’t just elect somebody and sit back and say, ‘Well, it’ll be fine now.’ Because that’s not how life works.”
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On the other hand, while parents like Ashlee agree SROs should not enforce minor classroom issues, she and others believe there must be some level of accountability with the school board.
"A big worry for a lot of the community is that classroom-to-prison pipeline,” Ashlee said. “But when we consider the current board, it’s a problem. And there are some to blame more than others. Certain board members have said some pretty aggressive, threatening things because of me being a white mother. And I have a student of color attending East.”
Teri Viswanath, whose son is African American and an incoming sophomore at East, said the DPS school board is dysfunctional and needs to be addressed. She said SROs could work, but only with transparency and oversight.
That includes being careful with the selection of officers, mindful of their training, and having a good policy they can follow, plus accountability, according to Viswanath.
"And we don’t have any of those," Viswanath said.
Sense said he believes more guns make communities less safe.
"My perception as a white teacher is that our SROs work hard to build relationships with our kids in Aurora," he said. "Ultimately, what matters is who is having contact with the SROs in a negative and disciplinary way.”
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Turner said she can’t help but fear the worst.
“The statistics are abysmal in how they have not served Black and brown students,” she said.
That’s perhaps why there’s still so much uncertainty and anxiety. Historically, the interactions between SROs and students of color have not been positive. And the lack of clarity around the role of SROs in DPS is murky at best.
“There’s been no clarity from anyone — from the district, from the police department,” Ashlee said. “I don’t even know if the school knows what these officers are going to be doing in our community.”
“Everybody’s voice is important,” Turner added. “Not just the voices that are the loudest.”
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