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Former DPS safety department leader questions safety plan

Melissa Craven said she worked for the district for a dozen years.

DENVER — A former Denver Public Schools (DPS) employee in charge of making the district safer said leadership did not make security a priority. Melissa Craven said in a news conference she worked in the district's safety department for 12 years. Her last position was interim deputy chief of support services. 

On Monday, she joined the Parent Safety Advocacy Group (PSAG) and called out flaws she sees in the school district's first draft of its safety plan. 

"DPS says student safety is their number one priority. In my experience, and that of my former colleagues, that is less than accurate and would be laughable if the consequences to our students and staff were not so extravagant," Craven said. 

Craven said her departure from DPS shortly after the most recent shooting was "not by choice." But the time away gave her space to see what the district was missing. 

"What doesn't exist is a culture within DPS that focuses on safety and allows the community to have trust and confidence that safety is in fact their number one priority," she explained. 

The district wrapped up feedback for the first draft of its safety plan on Sunday. 

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 plan did not include changes to the pat-down policy -- a policy that left two East High deans vulnerable. They were shot while waiting for someone to help with a pat-down.

Credit: KUSA Staff

"The department for climate and safety had not held a training for school staff on how to conduct pat-down," Craven explained. "Campus safety officers are trained to conduct searches however they're not always informed that a search is under way."

Vernon Jones Jr., a parent and former DPS employee, said they have been meeting with DPS officials about the changes they'd like to see in the safety plan. 

"We want our children to learn, we want them to come home from school and we want them to thrive," Jones said. "We need to own it as community in saying as long as our children believe we're failing them as adults we still have work to do."

9NEWS reached out to DPS following Craven's remarks, in a statement the district said:

"Safety is absolutely the number one priority for Denver Public Schools because a student who does not feel safe will be able to learn and thrive. 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. These officers are trained in searches every single year. This applies unless an Action Intervention Plan lists other individuals as responsible for the search."

The second draft of the district's safety plan is expected to be released on Friday.

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