New Denver Public Schools safety plan includes school resource officers in some buildings | #schoolsaftey

Police tape outside Denver East High School after a shooting on March 22, 2023. (Photo: KDVR)

DENVER (KDVR) – Some Denver students can expect to see school resource officers return to their high schools under a new plan released Friday.

The announcement is part of a 57-page long-term safety plan from Denver Public Schools that was released on Friday.

This new plan stems from a shooting at East High School in March that ended with two staff members in the hospital. Those staff members were searching a student who was required to be checked after being expelled from another district. During the search, they found a handgun and the teen shot them. The teen ran away from the school and was found later to have killed himself.

This incident resulted in school resource officers immediately being returned to a variety of schools across the district, a reversal of a 2020 decision to remove them, and the decision to conduct a full review and create a new plan for district safety.

“Safety is a layered approach that encompasses many different areas including mental health supports, training within the existing work day, technology, buildings and systems,” DPS Superintendent Alex Marrero said. “This plan is not the last word on school safety for Denver Public Schools, but rather the beginning of a process of continuous improvement. We will continue our work to address the enduring pain experienced by many through a deeper focus on trauma-informed and restorative practices.”

What the plan is for SROs

The portion specific to SROs comes about halfway through the document after the district outlines a variety of information and plans regarding mental health, behavioral screening, bullying prevention, employee support and more.

On page 33 the district says it will “Establish administration policies and a Memorandum of Understanding with the Denver Police Department for when the persistent presence of School Resource Officers on school property is necessary.”

This follows a section where, on page 23, the district describes a plan to build a “safe and welcoming school environment” is introduced.

“By focusing on high quality learning experiences that center high student engagement, the district fully anticipates this will be a major deterrent to unsafe and disengaged behaviors at the student level,” the plan says.

In this section, the district says it will “continue working” to implement plans to help students “experience a safe and welcoming classroom,” “experience high quality Transformative Social Emotional and Academic Learning” and “experience a schoolwide safe and welcoming environment.”

Education unions disagree on who should make decision

The board said it received data from the Denver School Leaders Association, a union that includes principals, showing that there was 80% support for the return of SROs but 60% of members thought it should be a decision made by district leaders.

However, data shared by the Denver Classroom Teachers Association, a union that represents teachers, showed that members wanted the decision made at the school level.

Safety personnel definitions

The DPS board outlines four separate safety and security roles, three of which are armed personnel and one is unarmed.

Police officers and SROs will be armed Denver Police Department employees who are certified police officers and have passed specific training requirements. SROs specifically are police officers who are assigned to DPS to “bridge the gap between schools and law enforcement.”

The third type of armed safety personnel is the Department of Climate and Safety Patrol Officer. These officers are DPS employees who are not police officer-certified, but according to DPS often have a similar level of training as former police officers, members of the military and other careers. They will patrol the district, according to the new plan, and conduct home visits for students and staff as needed.

Finally, Campus Safety Officers will be unarmed DPS employees, the district says, and will have “significant training to include safety and security procedures, emergence response, crises intervention, etc.” They will be expected to assist with safety issues and “build relationships with students and leadership.”

Other safety concerns for school buildings

On page 28 the district outlines its focus on school and building safety.

This includes a Standard Response Protocol that DPS says is used in 40,000 schools across the globe and allows employees, students and leadership to respond to “weather events, fires, accidents, intruders and other threats to personal safety.”

As it related to searching students, the new plan says additional support will be provided, “especially where weapons may be present.”

The school/building safety section also lays out how and in what situations notifications about safety incidents will be shared as well as identifying different levels of response needed for “crisis events.”

The final pages are used by the district to outline its plans to address youth violence with programs that begin as early as elementary school. These include after-school programs and summer activities for students.

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