DENVER — The community on Friday got a look at the second version of Denver Public Schools' (DPS) new safety plan.
The DPS Board of Education in March directed Superintendent Alex Marrero to draft a comprehensive safety plan for the district – a day after two deans were shot and injured by a student at East High School. The district listened to feedback for weeks after releasing its first plan in early May.
In the updated draft, Marrero recommended that if the school board opts to bring back student resource officers (SROs) to the district's schools, the plan should be comprehensive, applying to all schools grades six through 12 and each high school. This is different from the first draft, which recommended each school could make an individual decision about SROs on campus.
If SROs return, that will continue Marrero’s directive to put SROs in high schools for the 2022-2023 school year.
The school board voted unanimously in summer 2020 to remove 18 Denver Police officers from its schools and rely on the district's own safety officers instead. The decision came amid social justice protests and was based on data showing the majority of students ticketed and arrested were Black and Latino students between the ages of 10 and 15.
Community opinion on SROs was mixed, the district said.
The same was true about weapons detection systems. Contrasting the opinion on SROs, the second draft recommends allowing each school principal to determine whether they will implement this protocol.
DPS said it is researching and testing technology options. As 9NEWS previously reported, the type of artificial intelligence weapons detection system proposed in the first draft failed to detect knives in a field test and in a New York school where a student stabbed a fellow classmate.
DPS acknowledged a weapon detection system is just one layer in a school safety plan.
Additionally, this second draft states that each school's unarmed campus officers will be on hand to provide support in student searches.
The district went on to address feedback that questioned why students who are on a safety plan in the first place are not moved to another school. DSP said, "Free and appropriate education is a fundamental right that ensures equal access to education without discrimination, regardless of an individual's background, abilities, or circumstances."
Parents also told the district they wanted this second draft to be clearer, so they could decipher which plans exist currently and which plans are proposals. The second draft explicitly defines each.
DPS will solicit feedback through June 12. The final plan is expected by the end of June.
"First impression is, I appreciate they’re holding to their timeline," said Steve Katsaros, an East High parent and co-founder of the Parent Safety Advocacy Group (PSAG). "DPS did a good job of delivering on time, Safety Plan 2.0. I applaud them. It's great. It's a lot of work before the end of June, training before July, so everyone knows new protocol and welcoming kids back in August."
While pleased with the timeline, Katsaros said he sees plenty of room for improvement for the plan itself.
On the question of SROs, Katsaros said PSAG doesn't have a formal position. For his personal opinion, Katsaros said he believes East High would benefit from their return.
Either way, he said he expects problems if DPS ultimately makes the future of SROs a blanket, district-wide policy.
"I think that’s problematic, each school is its own environment," he said. "If we've learned anything over last 9 months, we've learned how contentious SROs are. We're going to make decisions at the district level that will upset half the community, whether you choose SROs to staff schools, or if you don’t – its going to leave a lot of people feeling very frustrated."
A lot of parents want to see significant changes to DPS's discipline matrix. Katsaros said PSAG has a working group focused on that very issue, and doesn't think district leaders need to be traveling to Harvard to find solutions.
"The new discipline is no discipline," he said. "I have a problem with that, I feel that its led to very disruptive learning environments. I don't know how teachers work in these environments. Collaboratively, I want to get to a point where our students are safe and thriving and the teachers love their jobs."
PSAG has a seat at the table, working with district leaders as DPS revises the safety plan. Katsaros said wants to see parents as involved as possible - in the surveys, at Board of Education Meetings, and more.
"It's not just an East conversation, it's all 200+ schools in DPS that need to have the safety, the trust, and just learning environments that come with those so all students can thrive," he said.
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