DENVER — Denver Public Schools on Monday released a draft of its long-term operational safety plan.
The draft proposal includes:
- A recommendation to allow middle and high schools to decide individually, each year, whether or not to have armed Denver Police Department officers in schools.
- A discussion of weapons detection systems.
- Information on ongoing building safety audits.
- A section stressing that schools, not the district, should request safety protocols for incoming students.
The draft does not call for changes to the patdown policy or the discipline matrix, which allows for students to return to class while facing charges for violent crimes, including attempted murder.
"I don’t think anyone at school should have to do pat downs for potentially armed people," said Paul Ballenger, a member of the Parents-Safety Advocacy Group. "I think it’s a recipe for disaster."
"Teachers are not required to conduct pat-downs," district spokesperson Will Jones said in an email to 9NEWS. "Our school leaders follow district policy JIH, which outlines how school officials may conduct searches of a student’s person or personal effects. District guidance to school officials is that, if there is a concern that a student may have a weapon, a DPS Campus Safety Officer (CSO) or Patrol Officer should be involved in the search. This applies unless an Action and Intervention Plan lists other individuals as responsible for the search."
Jones also said "there are legal standards for when a law enforcement officer is involved in a search."
Ballenger, a current security consultant and former CEO of a security firm, also said parents want to see changes in how students can be disciplined.
"It doesn’t really address specifics for students that have gun crimes, gun charges, coming into our district," he said. "It’s very vague language."
Jones said the discipline matrix "is legally compliant to state law," and "does not unilaterally apply to a delinquent act that takes place away from school."
"For acts that take place off school grounds, DPS evaluates the connection of the delinquent act to the school, and determines if, legally, the district can utilize its discipline practices," Jones wrote. "This happens on a case-by-case basis."
On March 23, the day after two deans were shot and injured by a student at East High School, the Board of Education directed Superintendent Alex Marrero to craft a comprehensive safety plan by June 30.
Sister of injured dean speaks out
Two deans were checking the student accused in that shooting for weapons when they were both shot. The student died by suicide later that day.
The injured deans are Eric Sinclair and Wayne Mason, who is known in the East High community as Jerald Mason.
Mason was expected to speak at a news conference Monday, but was at home healing after a medical procedure earlier in the day. His sister, Collinus Newsome, said Mason is still doing a lot of therapy, but is on the mend.
Newsome said that day, her mother alerted her that her brother had been shot. She rushed to the hospital and saw her brother in a hospital bed with a gunshot wound to his chest. He had a smile on his face, but she said his joy was taken from him that day. She said she is disappointed with a lack of action from the school district.
"There are only three people that know what happened in that room, and one of them is dead. And his name is Austin, and we failed him too," she said.
She expressed frustration toward the district, saying her family hasn't heard from many of them since the shooting.
"The policies and egos and the generally horrifying behavior of this district and our board, you ought to be ashamed," she said.
In an email to 9NEWS, the district said "there have been several touchpoints between the district and the Mason family." They said Marrero has had conversations with Mason and his family, and several other district leaders have communicated with the family via text.
Newsome said Mason is planning to speak at the next Parent Safety Group meeting on May 8. That group was created shortly after the shooting, and has been pushing for a district-wide security plan.
School resource officers
The draft plan includes a recommendation to allow middle and high schools to decide individually, each year, whether or not to have armed Denver Police Department officers in schools.
"It is the recommendation of Superintendent Dr. Alex Marrero to the Board of Education to allow all district-run high schools and 6th-12th campuses to engage their school communities to make a site-based decision regarding SROs on their campuses," the draft says. "The decision to house Denver Police Department SROs by 6th-12th campuses would occur annually and must involve the use of a community engagement process."
In 2020, the board voted to remove school resource officers from schools by the end of the 2020-21 school year. After the shooting at East, Marrero and the board reinstated SROs at 13 schools until June 30.
Weapon detection systems
The plan also discusses "weapons detection technology," saying, "The determination of a weapon detection system at a school or district building will be a site-based decision with extensive community engagement."
"Weapons detection technology is designed to create an effective barrier between firearms and people in schools," the plan says. "This could be achieved by using low profile entry-based weapons detection systems similar to those currently being used in other school districts such as Baltimore Public Schools and in sports arenas, airports and courts. Weapons detection technology can provide artificial intelligence to process students, staff and visitors through quickly using touchless security screening technology."
Building safety audits
According to the plan, DPS is in the process of conducting assessments to evaluate the condition of buildings district-wide.
"These assessments will be conducted based on best practices and include physical infrastructure recommendations such as secure vestibules, camera placement, lighting, etc.," the draft says.
Transfers from other districts
The student who shot two deans at East had left Cherry Creek Schools after another weapons incident. The proposed safety plan stresses that schools, not the district, should request safety protocols for incoming students.
"When a student transitions from an out of district school, the school team should be requesting prior school records as part of the enrollment process," the plan says. "School teams are reminded to request any prior safety protocols in response to safety needs. School teams may reach out to a Student Safety Coordinator who can also request prior safety protocols from prior districts of enrollment."
In an email Tuesday, 9NEWS asked a district spokesperson, "By putting certain decisions up to schools (i.e. police in schools and requesting safety protocols) rather than a district wide policy, are you punting the problem off to principals?"
"Community members have overwhelmingly stated to us that they want to participate closely in the process of ensuring that our schools are safer," Jones said. "By allowing school leaders, students and families to be more involved in ascertaining the needs of individual school communities, Denver Public Schools is being responsive to those requests by providing more opportunities for more local community engagement in this important work."
The plan was originally part of a policy the board passed on Feb. 23, but after the shooting at East, the board asked the superintendent to expedite its development.
The superintendent released the first draft of the plan Monday. The district said they plan to gather feedback and release a second draft by June 1. The superintendent hopes to release the final plan on June 26 for the Board of Education to review.
Denver Police Chief Ron Thomas said shortly after the plan was released that he hadn't seen it yet, but he hoped the district does more than put officers back in school.
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