Denver high schools could decide on police under draft safety plan

Superintendent Alex Marrero is recommending that the leaders of each Denver high school and school with 6th- to 12th-graders decide whether to place armed police officers on their individual campuses, according to new a draft safety plan released Monday.

Denver Public Schools’ Board of Education tasked Marrero with creating the plan after a student shot two administrators inside East High School on March 22.

The district expects to release a final draft next month and Marrero cautioned plan could change, saying, in a statement, “This first version is far from a finished product.”

But for now, Marrero is recommending all district-run high schools and combined middle/high schools be allowed to engage with parents and students, and then decide whether they want school resource officers — rather than create a blanket policy for Denver schools.

The decision to have Denver Police Department officers on those campuses would be determined by each qualifying school and reviewed annually, according to the superintendent’s recommendation.

Ultimately, though, the decision to have armed police in schools will need to be decided by the school board. A prior board policy that barred school resource officers is set to resume on June 30, unless members take further action, according to DPS’s 48-page draft safety plan.

The board voted unanimously in late March to temporarily put police back in the city’s high schools by suspending that policy. The decision came after a five-hour, closed-door meeting and was a reversal for the elected school board, which voted to remove police from DPS buildings in 2020.

(The Denver Post and five other Colorado news outlets have sued the district, alleging the board violated the Colorado Open Meetings Law by convening behind closed doors and is requesting a recording of that meeting be made public.)

It’s unknown whether the DPS board would vote to put police back in schools on a long-term basis. Through spokesman Bill Good, the board declined to comment on the plan, citing the fact that it’s not yet finalized.

School board Vice President Auon’tai Anderson told The Post that he was “concerned” about the superintendent’s recommendation and that he would like to see more mental health resources deployed in schools if more police are also added.

“I’m just concerned with going back to the way things were because we know that didn’t work,” said Anderson, one of the leaders of the 2020 effort that removed police from Denver’s schools.

After that interview, Anderson tweeted that, if asked to vote on the draft plan today, he would oppose it.

The decision to remove SROs from schools came amid the protests that followed the murder of George Floyd, an unarmed Black man killed by a white police officer in Minneapolis. Board members have argued that police officers in schools harm students of color and contribute to the school-to-prison pipeline.

Anderson previously has alleged Marrero told the school board that if members did not act following the East shooting, then there was a plan for Mayor Michael Hancock to use an executive order to put police back in schools. (Hancock’s office has repeatedly denied there was ever a conversation about using an executive order, although Marrero told The Post that the two discussed such a move.)

Anderson also raised concerns about the results the district received via surveys DPS sent to students, employees and staff asking about school safety. The responses came from only a small portion of the district’s almost 88,000 students and 15,000 employees, he said.

“I’m kind of concerned with the data that we received because it doesn’t reflect the demographics of our district,” Anderson said.

More than 7,500 people responded to the surveys in April. Of those, 2,578 were students, 1,836 were staff and the rest — more than 3,000 — were family members, according to DPS.

Families of color were “underrepresented” in the survey responses, despite the fact that the majority of children who attend the district are students of color. The district said in a powerpoint slide that the responses “were weighted to account for these systematic differences to report percentages more reflective of the district population as a whole.”

The survey results found that weapons in schools and “student-on-student violence” were among the top concerns of respondents.

Since the shooting, DPS has faced scrutiny for its discipline polices and students have spoken about not feeling safe at East, the district’s biggest high school.

“I’m certainly pleased that we were able to be immediately responsive to the concerns expressed by students and teachers and parents in putting officers back in the schools,” said Denver police Chief Ron Thomas during a news conference at City Park on Monday.

But, he added, “I don’t believe that that is where we need to stop in terms of how we provide safety and support for young people with our schools.”

The draft safety plan released by DPS on Monday was broad, touching on mental health resources provided by the district, its crisis response team and partnerships with the city of Denver.

The plan provided a summary of the district’s discipline polices, but did not include any specific recommendations or changes. It did include two paragraphs on weapon detection systems — including the potential use of sensors and artificial intelligence software to perform security screening.

“The determination of a weapon detection system at a school or district building will be a site-based decision with extensive community engagement,” the draft said.

The district expects to release a revised plan — called Version 2.0 — on May 26. DPS will reveal the final plan on June 23 and the school board will review it on June 30.

DPS is still seeking student and community feedback on the safety plan. The district will hold virtual town halls at 10 a.m. and 6 p.m. May 17, according to its website.

Denver Post staff writer Sam Tabachnik contributed to this report.

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