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East High School shooting suspect was on a safety plan that included daily searches. Here's what that means

Why was East High School shooting suspect Austin Lyle on a safety plan that involved daily searches? We dug into the DPS "discipline matrix" and spoke with educators to get some perspective.
Posted: 5:31 PM, Mar 22, 2023
Updated: 2023-03-23 10:59:00-04
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Editor's note: Authorities said Wednesday around 8:30 p.m. that a body was found in Park County near the vehicle the shooting suspect was associated with. Early Thursday morning, the Park County Coroner confimed the body is that of the shooting suspect. Click here for more.

Austin Lyle, the 17-year-old East High School student accused of shooting two deans at the school Wednesday morning, was under a safety agreement that involved him being searched at the beginning of each day.

It was during that search that Lyle pulled out a gun and fired “several” shots, injuring deans Jerald Mason and Eric Sinclair, according to Denver Police Chief Ron Thomas.

So, what is a school safety agreement, and why was this student on one? Denver7 dug into Denver Public Schools’ policy, with the help of some current educators, to find out.

DPS has what it calls a “discipline matrix,” which measures student misconduct on six different levels of severity. Level six, the most serious, involves possession of a firearm on campus and mandates an expulsion hearing.

Two deans injured in shooting at East High School, student suspect is at-large

The goal of the matrix is to "disrupt bias, fight disproportionality, and apply the Discipline Matrix in [an] anti-racist and trauma-informed manner," according to the document.

Some level-4 offenses, as well as all level-5 and level-6 offenses, require a “full threat appraisal,” according to the matrix.

Denver7 learned from those familiar with the policy that a student’s safety plan is based on that threat appraisal, which determines whether the threat is low, medium or high.

The plan can include a no contact agreement, mandatory escort to class or daily searches, according to educators who did not want to be identified.

Sources say daily searches typically only happen after a student has committed a serious act of violence. Denver7 pressed DPS Superintendent Alex Marrero about what may have led to the shooting suspect’s safety plan.

He declined to give specifics, citing the federal Family Educational Rights And Privacy Act. That law protects student education records, including disciplinary records.

“It's very nuanced, and it's particular to each individual,” Marrero said. “It's based on past behavior. And that's as far as I can feel comfortable saying.”

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While we don’t know what action prompted the suspect’s safety agreement with DPS, Denver7 was able to confirm with Cherry Creek Schools that he was previously removed from Overland High School for “violating board policy.”

One caveat to DPS’s discipline matrix concerns students who have been identified to have a disability and have been placed on individualized educational plans, or IEPs.

Consequences for those students may not follow the same discipline plan outlined in the discipline matrix.

Read the DPS discipline matrix below or here, and continue reading beneath the embed.

Do other districts have safety plans?

We reached out to Colorado's largest school districts and found that safety plans are not unique to DPS.

  • Jeffco Public Schools has safety plans that "vary by student, level, and per the behavior it's intended to mitigate," a spokesperson told Denver7.
  • Aurora Public Schools told us, that, according to its policy, "the principal or those authorized by the principal may search the person of a student, if the school official has reasonable cause to suspect that the student is in possession of contraband." Those searches are limited to a student's clothing and bags, or a pat-down search. Strip searches must be performed by a law enforcement officer.
  • Douglas County Schools "may require a backpack search of certain students when appropriate" in situations involving threat assessment and re-entry, according to a district spokesperson.
  • A Cherry Creek Schools spokesperson said the district does have safety plans for students but did not offer specifics

Denver7's Kirsten Boyd contributed to this report.