The Denver Public School Board of Education unanimously voted Thursday to allow Denver police back into schools, reversing a 2020 vote to phase officers out of the city’s schools.
The decision comes a day after a 17-year-old Denver East High School student shot two school administrators, one who, as of Thursday afternoon, remained in serious condition.
In a memo directed to Superintendent Alex Marrero, the seven-member board requested he work with Denver’s mayor and elected officials to “externally fund” at least two armed police officers and at least two mental health workers, including therapists and psychologists, at all high schools in the district for the remainder of the school year.
The board also requested in its memo that every armed officer inside the school “is appropriately trained in the use of firearms, de-escalation techniques, policing in a school environment, knowledgeable of the school community they intend to serve, and skilled in community policing.”
“We have not flip-flopped. What we are doing is including more community engagement because we did have a one-year-long process back in 2020 where we included community and we are including them once more so that we can hear from them again. So there’s no flip-flopping,” Board President Xóchtil Gaytán said during a news conference following the board’s executive session.
Gaytán said there was a sense of urgency and immediacy for the board as it discussed safety at the schools.
“There’s been a societal failure here locally in our city government, statewide and nationwide and for us to incur death of students is not OK,” she said. “It is not OK and it really weighs heavily on each of us.”
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The board directed superintendent Marrero to develop a long-term safety and security plan, while considering feedback from students, parents, staff, school leaders and others in the community. They told him to submit the plan no later than June 30 so that the board can vote on it prior to the 2023-24 academic year.
“We spent quite a bit of time and I was encouraged to hear the proclamation, the memo that I received, but more importantly the process on how we got to action-based solutions,” Marrero said. “Is it the fix? We do not know. We know that going back to extremes isn’t a solution. But this is the right way forward.”
Denver Mayor Michael Hancock said he appreciated the board’s “change in direction,” in a statement Thursday.
In a statement a few hours after the shooting, Hancock said school resources officers should be returned to Denver’s schools.
“Removing them was a mistake and we must move swiftly to correct it,” he said.
Police found the shooting suspect’s body in the woods in Park County on Wednesday evening, hours after authorities found his car parked along a nearby road. Denver District Attorney Beth McCann said Austin Lyle died by suicide.
Lyle, who had been in trouble before, was placed on a safety plan that required him to be searched each day before school. The shooting happened as two deans were patting him down in an office area at Denver East, away from other students and staff.
Marrero said he planned to meet with Lyle’s parents Thursday.
“We all as educators came into this profession to support, help students thrive and most importantly, provide them an opportunity to succeed,” he said. “I can acknowledge that we failed Austin as a district.”