Parents wait for students to be walked out after two administrators shot and wounded after a handgun was found during a daily search of a student at Denver East High School Wednesday, March 22, 2023, in Denver. (AP Photo/David Zalubowski)

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Over the past decade, Denver Public Schools’ approach to discipline has swung decidedly toward keeping students in school rather than kicking them out.

Safety begins with positive relationships between staff and students and a positive school climate, the district’s discipline policy says. Bringing a gun to school is the only offense that automatically results in an expulsion hearing for a student. Even students facing serious criminal charges can stay in school as long as they are not behind bars.

Last month’s shooting of two East High School deans by a student who was being searched for weapons has placed renewed scrutiny on discipline in Colorado’s largest school district.

But so far, Denver Public Schools has held firm to its approach. 

“We are a welcoming environment,” DPS Deputy Chief of Staff Deborah Staten said in an interview this week. “We really want students to be in their school environment.”

The debate now playing out in Denver — with some saying the pendulum has swung too far toward tolerance and others fearful of a return to policies that harm marginalized students —  illustrates the difficulty of striking the right balance on discipline amidst rising gun violence.

“There’s just no discipline, there’s no accountability, there’s no structure,” said Heather Weldon, whose daughter is an eighth grader at McAuliffe International School, where the principal spoke out about DPS denying his request to expel a student charged with attempted murder.

“Right now, there’s no consequences, it feels like,” Weldon said.


Melanie Asmar, Chalkbeat

Senior Reporter — Chalkbeat Colorado Email: