Denver school board should set district-wide policy on armed police

Denver’s school board should decide whether to station armed police in the city’s comprehensive high schools and other qualifying campuses, according to a new recommendation by Superintendent Alex Marrero, which is a change from his earlier plan that would have left such decisions up to individual schools.

The recommendation was released Friday as part of a revised version of Denver Public School’s safety plan, which the Board of Education directed Marrero to create after a student shot two administrators inside East High School in March. The superintendent is expected to release his final draft on June 23.

Marrero is recommending the school board set a district-wide policy on whether to staff school resource officers — or SROs — in Denver’s comprehensive high schools and schools with 6th- to 12th-graders, according to the latest version of the safety plan.

Opinions varied widely when DPS sought feedback from the community on whether armed police should be stationed in schools, and as a result, the district believes it is best if the decision is managed by the school board, said spokesman Scott Pribble.

“We encourage (community) members to reach out to their board members once we get to that point of this process,” he said, adding, “This is still a draft and a final decision has not been made.”

Even under the previous draft, the school board still would have had to decide whether to allow school resource officers — or SROs — on campuses. The board suspended a policy that prohibits armed police in schools in March after the East shooting, but it is set to resume June 30 unless members decide otherwise.

The school board voted in 2020 to remove police from DPS schools amid the national reckoning 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 in schools harm students of color and contribute to the school-to-prison pipeline.

After the board temporarily put police back in schools, one member – Auon’tai Anderson – alleged that Marrero told directors that if they didn’t act then there was a plan for Mayor Michael Hancock to use an executive order to do so. Hancock’s office has repeatedly denied the allegation, but Marrero told The Denver Post that the two did in fact discuss such a move.

Movimiento Poder, a Denver group that has advocated against police in schools, has criticized the district’s decision to put SROs back into schools, saying that the policy reversal is harmful to students of color.

“If this proposal is adopted, there may not be anyone in Colorado besides prison inmates who would be policed as much on a daily basis as DPS students,” according to a report released last week by Movimiento Poder in response to Marrero’s first safety plan draft.

Under the latest draft, the district is proposing that the DPS Student Safety Coordinator Team will create training for all employees on threats, suicide, and non-suicidal self-harm, which would be implemented in spring 2024. The team would also work with Denver Police to train SROs if police return to the district’s campuses.

DPS will also partner with local law enforcement agencies to host youth violence meetings, which would help “monitor trends of violence impacting school communities and strengthen partnerships to dismantle barriers impacting access to programming for youth,” according to the 62-page draft.

Marrero is still proposing that school leaders will decide whether they want a weapon detection system on their individual campus. The superintendent’s previous draft mentioned the potential use of sensors and artificial intelligence software to perform security screening.

Since the East shooting, parents and community members have criticized DPS for its discipline policies.

So far, Marrero has not recommended changing the district’s discipline policies. Instead, DPS will work with the Public Education Leadership Project at Harvard University to “build strategies for strengthening student discipline, discipline practices and engagement” ahead of the 2023-24 academic year, according to the executive summary.

The national group will help DPS learn “best practices and figure out where we are falling short,” Pribble said. “At the same time, knowing that we have to follow state and federal rules and also ensure we are following our equity guidelines that we have to put in place.”

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