As Denver Public Schools prepare to welcome student back to classes next week, safety remains a critical concern for parents.
“It’s absolutely terrifying to send your kid to public school in this day and age with the gun problems and all the violence problems,” said Anne Heskin.
Heskin’s daughter is set to enter 6th grade at McAuliffe International School next week. Amid recent administration changes and the investigation into concerns over a “seclusion room” , Heskin worries all this has played a role in shifting the focus away from ensuring safety for other students.
“My daughter is an amputee, and we are especially concerned for her safety because she can’t move quite as quickly and quite as well as the other children,” said Heskin.
Following last school year’s , parents have been pushing for the district to address changes, particularly strengthening DPS’s existing discipline matrix. That’s the guideline for disciplining a student for certain offenses.
“I think we have to look at the safety of everybody because safety is a right also, and not just the due process of some kids that are offenders,” said Jamie Lofaro.
Lofaro was a principal within DPS for 10 years and has seen both the impact of the old discipline matrix versus the more recent one.
“I think the prior discipline matrix had some offenses that the consequences were stricter,” she said. “It didn’t mean that a kid was expelled but at least there was the process, and when you follow the process, you look at threat assessment, mental health, you kind of dig into the history of a student before we can even move that forward.”
The old matrix required the district to report any type five or high offense (robbery, first and second-degree assault, sexual assault, distribution of drugs, or bringing a weapon to school) to police and the student would be immediately recommended for expulsion.
That changed in 2021 to a matrix that required more hurdles for the staff to jump through before police could be involved, and it did not necessarily mean a student would face expulsion.
Lofaro and other DPS parents have worked together over the summer to create a discipline policy recommendation, which gets back to holding students more accountable when egregious crimes are committed on campuses.
“Nobody wants to ticket a student unless they’ve done something is severe enough to be ticketed. Not graffiti on a locker or anything like that, but a sexual offense, a weapon, assaults, those are the things that we want to see that need to be addressed at a higher level,” she said. “And then just transparency about how the process runs, who is running the process, what is their background, are they affiliated with education at all or mental health.”
A spokesperson for the district did not immediately respond with requests for an interview or a statement in response to the proposed recommendations.
A full list of the Parents Safety Advocacy Group’s (P-SAG) recommendations include:
• Require mandatory 1-year expulsion for possession of firearms on school property, nexus to school and/or during district sponsored events.
• All type five offenses must have a mandatory expulsion hearing (and include possession and sale/distribution of unauthorized drugs or controlled substances as a type five offense)
• Complete overhaul of training for school staff involved in discipline-on-discipline policy, matrix, and ladder, including mandatory in-person training for all affected school staff. 1) Adopt national standards associated with the process to conduct full threat appraisals.
• Mandatory referral and citation to DPD and DFD for arson.
• Track and report key safety data, monthly, by school and student demographics.
• Invest 7-10% of general fund dollars in student mental health and well-being services.
• Host annual safety and security conference for all school leaders, supervisors and district administrators on topics related to safety and security, mental health interventions, behavior and academic practices, mental health and behavior support interventions and practices to mitigate escalating behaviors.