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Denver Public Schools won't publicly release photographs of guns the district has confiscated

A district official said that making pictures public threatens student privacy and could create "panic" and "confusion."

DENVER — Denver Public Schools has refused to make public photographs of guns confiscated by the district – contending that releasing them could undermine safety practices, aid potential school shooters and create “panic” and “confusion.”

The decision came amid questions about school safety in the wake of a March 22 shooting at East High School that sent two deans to the hospital.

The failure to make the photos public upset one man who has gotten involved in a safety advocacy group.

“I understand their need to be discreet in some situations, but a wholesale decision to not release anything is just the continued stonewalling of transparent communication to the parents,” said Steve Katsaros, the father of two sons, one in middle school and one in high school.

The group formed after the shooting last month that was carried out by a student who was considered so dangerous that he was subjected to a pat-down search for weapons each time he entered the building.

The district declined a request from 9NEWS for an on-camera interview with an official who could address the decision to not  make the gun photographs public. In a follow-up e-mail, the district said it would make someone available to discuss school safety in general terms.

It is another instance in which Katsaros said he believes the district has failed to be transparent about issues that affect school safety.

So far, for instance, DPS has not answered questions about how many students are currently subjected to that “pat-down” rule.

The district’s detailed policy on pictures of contraband includes examples of how things that are confiscated should be photographed – including, for instance, directions to use a ruler so that the object’s size will be obvious in the image.

But after 9Wants to Know requested the images, Stacy Wheeler, the district’s open records coordinator, declined to provide them. In one e-mail, she said that the district was withholding the records “based on the public interest in protecting student privacy as well as protecting the intelligence gathering process/safety concerns.”

“Releasing photographs of the guns does not add anything meaningful to the public discourse about this matter and could undermined the current safety practices by letting a potential shooter (know) what types of weapons are less likely to be identified via our current safety practices,” Wheeler wrote. “Further, doing so only serves to undermine confidence in Denver Public Schools and could create panic, confusion, and/or concern amongst our students, families and the community as a whole.”

“I used to trust the system to do things with integrity and with some transparency,” Katsaros said. “The more I’ve looked into this, I’ve come to realize that all transparency is broken and that the trust has been violated.”

Katsaros questioned the reasons the district gave for withholding release of the pictures.

“Student privacy is maintained – these are objects,” he said. “They’re inanimate objects. It’s a spoon, or a Swiss Army knife or a 9mm gun.”

He also said that while there might be times when a photo would need to be held back for a period of time – like during an effort to suspend or expel a student – that simply saying they won’t be released “is wrong.”

“Don’t tell me that I can’t handle the truth,” he said. “Don’t tell me that these things are to be hidden from me as a parent. It’s my job to look after my kids. It’s my job to vote with my feet and decide to leave this district if we don’t know what they’re subjected to.”

Contact 9Wants to Know investigator Kevin Vaughan with tips about this or any story: kevin.vaughan@9news.com or 303-871-1862.

More 9NEWS stories about Denver Public Schools:



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