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Denver school board suspends policy, will allow armed officers in schools

The Denver Public Schools Board of Education held a special executive session following a shooting at Denver's East High School.

DENVER — Following an hourslong session behind closed doors, the Denver Public Schools Board voted unanimously Thursday to suspend a policy that prevented the district superintendent from allowing armed officers in schools.

On Wednesday, two staff members were shot at East High School by a 17-year-old student while he was being searched as part of a safety plan. Superintendent Dr. Alex Marrero said Thursday that the district was not aware of the student's prior arrest on a weapons charge, but said those at East High School did know.

"They had a regular routine with the student," Marrero said. "I believe what happened yesterday, although inexplicable and unforeseen, there was a common administrator who would normally engage with the student upon arrival. That administrator was not available and, hence the two others, and perhaps that prompted [what happened]. It's hard to speculate, but that's what we've learned."

After the shooting, Marrero pledged to put two armed DPD officers at East HS through the end of the school year, while acknowledging his actions violated Executive Limitations 10.10, a district policy. He said he was willing to accept the consequences.

The board voted Thursday to suspend the policy through June 30. They said they adopted the memorandum to suspend it as a result of the "emergency situation." 

"As a mother of a 15-year-old in this district, when we discuss safety, I think about my child," DPS Board of Education President Xochitl “Sochi” Gaytan said. "I think of the death of the student that we failed, how we could’ve -- as a society, as a city -- could’ve done more"

Funding the placement of officers in schools is a concern, and the board also directed Marrero to work with Denver Mayor Michael Hancock on "external funding" for as many as two armed police officers and as many as two mental health professionals at all high schools for the remainder of the 2022-23 school year.

“I appreciate this change in direction by the DPS school board, and believe it is the right decision," Hancock said in a statement after the vote. "As I made clear to Superintendent Marrero yesterday, we stand ready to help him bring SROs back to our schools.”

Board members also directed that Marrero report monthly related to on-campus ticketing and arrests by officers. They'll also consider amendments to Executive Limitations 10.10 at a later time.

On Thursday, Marrero said it was standard for student searches to be conducted by school staff. He said these daily searches could not be conducted by armed officers because they would need "probable cause." Staff members are exempt from the probable cause requirement through a "caretaker exemption," according to Marrero.

Marrero said there are no plans to change that policy. 

He would not say how many students throughout the district are part of a plan in which they are regularly searched. He said it would be difficult to give a number since students enrolled and unenrolled in a plan fluctuate every day. 

In the audience at Thursday's news conference was Officer Francisco Alba. He said he was one of the first officers on scene at East High School on Wednesday. He said he saw the two administrators and tended to them until paramedics arrived, then helped them onto stretchers. 

Alba said he expects to be one of the two police officers assigned to East for the rest of the school year. 

"One student, one adult is far too many when we're dealing with our kids, with our treasures. Every single time our parents go to work the last thing they're thinking of is, is my kid going to come home?" Alba said on Thursday. "There's not one kid that's ever going to learn listening to a teacher or listening to a computer while thinking, who is on the outside? These kids want to feel like they have someone backing them up."

Alba said he was a school resource officer for DPS until they were removed in 2020. He said while having officers in school will be helpful, he stressed more needs to be done. 

> BELOW VIDEO: DPS board meets after East High shooting (RAW)


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