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Author of scathing principal survey, and his school board race opponent, say DPS isn’t making critical safety changes | #schoolsaftey


The author of a controversial survey of principals in Denver Public Schools is speaking publicly about it for the first time. It’s a survey that DPS originally kept hidden from the public, but ultimately released a draft copy to CBS News Colorado Friday.

It’s a survey of several high school principals and their safety teams, detailing their opinions of serious shortfalls in the district’s safety and discipline policies.

The survey’s author is John Youngquist, who is also a Denver School Board At Large candidate in the upcoming board race this November. 

“With the significant safety issues and violent acts that took place at Denver Public Schools over the course of last year, the school district asked me to work with them, and contracted me as an experienced expert regarding safety at school sites,” Youngquist explained. “The interest was in me interviewing principals and school safety teams at the high school level to gain an understanding of what the challenges were, what the opportunities are, what is not working for them at their school sites, and what is it that the school district can do to support their effort to secure their schools for students and for staff?”

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CBS


According to a copy of Youngquist’s contract with DPS, the district paid his consulting company, PrincipalEd Consulting, $46,000 to complete the survey.

In the survey, principals reported a number of concerns, including a lack of consequences for students who are accused of committing dangerous crimes, a lack of alternative school options for students when necessary, a lack of security supports for staff to handle threatening students, and principals also said safety upgrades are needed to school buildings, like the addition of more cameras.

So far, only Youngquist’s draft deport, which was completed in early May, has been publicly released. The district has refused to release the final report he completed in June, which Youngquist says contains several pages of important safety recommendations for DPS. 

While he says he can’t talk about the specifics on those recommendations, because it would violate his contract with DPS, he says the district has not made significant changes to better support students and staff, something that Youngquist says is frustrating.

“I can’t speak specifically to the report at all, because of my obligation to the district. I can speak from my experience as the chief academic officer in the Aurora Public Schools. Similarly, when I entered the Aurora Public Schools, there were significant concerns around the numbers of expulsions, the numbers of suspensions of tickets that were written and violent experiences in schools, and our interest at that point in time was to focus on supporting schools to ensure that students have what they need to not engage in the behaviors that result in those consequences,” Youngquist said. “That needs to become a priority for DPS, and for every school district, to focus on ensuring that students have the right mental health services, the right behavioral health services, the right supports, and that schools know how to respond appropriately and equitably and to make certain that we are taking care of and supporting our children through difficult experiences, so that they’re experiencing greater success over time.”

Youngquist’s opponent in the Denver school board race, Kwame Spearman, says he is able to talk about his specific plans for change. He says in his first month in office, creating a better safety plan would be top priority. 

“What we need right now is a specific plan to get our schools safe, and for me, that starts with our discipline matrix, we need to totally overhaul our discipline matrix,” Spearman said. “We need to provide funding for alternative learning environments for students who are dealing with crises outside of school with the criminal justice system… That’s where we need to move forward, because right now, the report tells us what we already know, that our students, teachers, and administrators are struggling with safety inside their schools.”

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CBS


In the survey, every single principal said they wanted school resource officers back in DPS, but some people have worried about SROs disproportionately arresting students of color in schools. 

Spearman says he has a plan that protects both interests. 

“We should have never removed SROs in 2020 without a plan; I am supportive of having SROs in our schools today, but I want to note that I’m the only candidate that is pledging that by the end of my first term, we’ve got to have a plan for life without guns in our schools, and I think that we should be moving towards community resource officers,” Spearman said. “I’m going to spend the next four years working with our community to have a community-based plan to keep our schools safe.”

Also in the survey, principals said that they are meeting only 50% of student mental health needs in schools.

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CBS


DPS says it has invested $82 million in mental health resources following the survey, but Youngquist says that investment “really doesn’t have anything to do with the report that I had created for the district.”

Youngquist also said there’s been evidence that the district hasn’t kept some of its promises regarding mental health surveys for students. 

“The promise in that plan is that students will receive that survey three times over the course of the year. There isn’t evidence that that is happening in most schools across the district,” Youngquist said. “So, we need to be able to have confidence that when a commitment is made… (it) is actually done.”

DPS Superintendent Alex Marrero said in a statement Monday that “DPS has made great progress in addressing the concerns expressed by our school leaders,” however Youngquist and Spearman disagree. 

“There’s no safety plan right now. And I know that you hear from the board, that you hear from the superintendent, that there’s a plan, but I’m unaware as to what it is. I think our teachers are unaware as to what it is,” Spearman said. “We need leadership to put together a concrete plan once again, for me, that starts with our discipline matrix. We’ve got to totally redesign our discipline matrix to where it’s easy to understand, it embraces an alternative learning environment, and it understands that we need a regional plan right now with expulsions. Most expulsions are coming from outside of Denver Public Schools and those students are finding themselves inside Denver Public Schools. That’s unacceptable. We need to ask our other neighboring school districts to do more with their expulsion policy and we need to think about our placement of those students within Denver Public Schools.”

Youngquist said, “I have two children at East High School. I was called to the school four times when challenges occurred, when there was a threat, and when there were three shootings, not knowing what was happening… There hasn’t been a significant response to providing safer schools for our students and for our staff since that moment.”

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CBS


A DPS spokesperson provided the following written statement to Spearman and Youngquist’s comments Thursday:

“Denver Public Schools is dedicated to improving school safety for all of our students. This is an ongoing process. Safety is a layered approach that encompasses many different areas including mental health supports, training within the existing work day, technology, buildings and systems. In addition to the list of safety enhancements that we shared in our previous statement on Friday, Oct. 6, we are starting the work to address security issues that have been identified in building safety assessments and completing the first round of the BESS screenings. This screening will be completed three times each year.

“Much of the work that is being done may not be immediately visible to the public, but it is continuing while we educate and support our 88,000 students. It requires extensive collaboration with the City of Denver and our broader community and we look forward to partnering with everyone to ensure our students learn in a safe and welcoming community where they can thrive. Ensuring the safety of our students is a project without an end date. Every day, every semester, every year, we will be working to find new and better ways to keep our schools safe.”



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