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Latino advocacy group urges DPS to reconsider cops in schools

Movimiento Poder said bringing officers into schools on a permanent basis would lead to criminalization of students of color.

DENVER — When Denver Public Schools releases the second draft of its new safety plan Friday, a longtime advocacy group within the city's Latino community will demand it remove provisions to allow armed police officers into the district's schools.

Following the shooting of two deans at Denver's East High School in March, Superintendent Alex Marrero returned Denver Police (DPD) officers to the city's high schools — in violation of a Board of Education order.

The board later acquiesced, and Marrero's new safety proposal would allow DPD officers into middle and high schools that opt in starting next school year. But not everyone thinks that plan will make students safer.

"For BIPOC [Black, Indigenous and People of Color] people, for working class people, having a police officer does not not equal safety for us," said Elsa Bañuelos-Lindsay, the executive director of Movimiento Poder. "Students will feel less safe if they have police officers on campus."

Her organization released a report responding to the district's proposal last week arguing that the removal of SROs in 2020 "has already been clearly and hugely beneficial to thousands of students and families." 

The report points to data showing a decrease in the number of tickets and arrests issued against students after 2020 — with the caveat that the pandemic likely impacted those numbers. Movimiento Poder said students of color were disproportionately likely to receive tickets or face arrests by SROs.

"Make no mistake: Students across Denver, and particularly BIPOC students, face a very direct threat from the superintendent's proposals, and it must not be allowed to proceed," the report says. "If police are in a school, they are going to be policing students."

"We know firsthand that if [students of color] have a space where they feel respected and they feel a sense of belonging, they will do better in their lives, and that's what our schools should be doing," Bañuelos-Lindsay said.

In a statement, a DPS spokesperson said the district is aware of Movimiento Poder's concerns. "We hear them. We are listening," the spokesperson said. 

But Bañuelos-Lindsay wants more discussion — about how to achieve safety for all students. "We also want to work with all parents and students to figure out, you know, what does safety mean to us?" she said. "And if there's other alternatives, we should talk about that and figure it out together."

The Movimiento Poder report calls for trauma-informed services and wraparound mental and behavioral health supports for students. "We have to start with an assessment of students' developmental needs and proceed from there."

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