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Superintendent says each DPS high school will be staffed by armed officer

The school board voted unanimously in the summer of 2020 to remove 18 Denver Police officers from its schools and rely on the school district's own safety officers.

DENVER — Denver Public Schools (DPS) will add an armed officer to each of the district’s high schools, the superintendent said Wednesday, after a student shot two staff members at East High School.

In a letter to the Denver Board of Education, Dr. Alex Marrero admitted this decision goes against district policy.

“I acknowledge this action likely violates Executive Limitations 10.10 (a district policy), which mandates that I ‘not staff district schools with school resource officers or the consistent presence of security armed with guns or any other law enforcement personnel,’” Marrero said. “However, I can no longer stand on the sidelines. I am willing to accept the consequences of my actions.”

Two staff members, both administrators, were taken to the hospital for treatment after the shooting. The suspect was identified as 17-year-old Austin Lyle, a current student at the school. The shooting happened as Lyle was being searched for weapons as a part of a safety plan, the Denver Police Department (DPD) said.

This comes after a separate deadly shooting outside of East High School last month. In that shooting, 16-year-old Luis Garcia was shot and killed near campus. 

Two officers will now staff East High School. 

This plan will stand through the remainder of the school year, Marrero said.

“Today was my fourth visit to Denver Health’s Intensive Care Unit due to victims of gun violence. These events should not have happened on my watch or on this Board’s watch,” Marrero wrote.

In a statement, the Board of Education said they back the superintendent's decision. 

"The Board of Education supports the decision of Superintendent Marrero to work in partnership with local law enforcement to create safer learning spaces across Denver Public Schools for the remainder of this school year. In addition we will continue to work collaboratively with our community partners including law enforcement and our local & state legislature to make our community safer," their statement said.

Denver Mayor Michael Hancock also backed the decision. 

"Following the shootings at East High School today, Denver Public Schools Superintendent Alex Marrero and I jointly agree that the safety of students and the public require deployment of police officers assigned to the high school for the remainder of the school year," Hancock said in a statement. "I encouraged and strongly support the Superintendent’s decision to bring police officers back to DPS high schools, and I’ve directed Chief Thomas to support this effort and deploy our officers accordingly in coordination with the school district.”

Denver District Attorney Beth McCann called the decision "courageous and necessary." 

"I applaud the decision of the Denver Public Schools Superintendent Marrero to put Denver police officers back in Denver comprehensive high schools," McCann said in a statement. "That was a courageous and necessary step. The Denver School Board should follow suit."

The school board voted unanimously in the summer of 2020 to remove 18 Denver Police officers from its schools and rely on the school 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.

The school district has about 20 armed patrol officers who go from campus to campus but are not assigned to specific schools. Those officers are licensed security and must call Denver Police to make an arrest.

The city of Denver has given the DPS patrol officers authority to issue tickets for minor offenses like drug possession, fighting and vandalism.

DPS also has unarmed campus safety officers who are assigned to specific school buildings. They carry pepper spray and handcuffs, which are only to be used as a last resort.

The mayor’s office does not have the authority to place officers at Denver schools. The decision has to come from the school board.

“Today, I act because I am the leader of this district who is charged with keeping our scholars and staff each and every day,” the superintendent said in his letter.

Marrero was hired in 2021, after the board’s vote.

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