DENVER — It's been a tough decision for students at East High School, whether they feel safe enough to go back to class.
Two weeks ago, just before spring break, two administrators were shot inside the school. That shooting happened only weeks after students at East lost their classmate, Luis Garcia, to gun violence.
Some students said they won't be returning to class on Wednesday. Some said they'll be protesting, instead.
Denver Public Schools has said they understand why families feel unsafe, which is why they are bringing back school resource officers (SROs) to several high schools this week.
The school district said they will have multiple safety layers and mental health resources in place when students return on Wednesday.
District officials said in addition to SROs, all students will be required to have their student ID on display and visitors will not be able to get into the building without going through a check-in process.
Other students are planning on attending class, hopeful for change.
"I know lots of people are going to protest and not go back to school," said Gabriel Curcio, a junior at East.
After thinking about it over the weekend, Curcio decided to go back to class. He was on the fence for a while.
"I think East will be able to come together, stronger than ever," he said. "It's not just an East problem. It's a nationwide level problem and we need to fix it before more kids die."
Returning to class isn't going to be easy, but he believes healing together is what will get them moving forward again.
"It feels like they’re my community and family so just being with them, it feels like it’s going to be a lot of help," said Curcio, 17. "I can't wait to see all them."
He's been to many protests before and said he'll keep speaking up while supporting his peers' efforts.
"I would love to go walkouts or anything going to the Capitol," said Curcio. "It feels like if we’re going to be doing this, we need to do this right and we need to be making our voices heard."
Lately, he's been thinking about his classmate Austin Lyle, accused of shooting two school administrators, and who later died by apparent suicide, according to law enforcement.
"I think to kick a kid out of school does nothing for them," said Curcio. "We need to be taking the measures that will actually help students instead of labeling them as criminals and making them feel unwanted."
He said people who knew Lyle said he was a great person, and kind.
"He wasn't just some evil person or some criminal," said Curcio. "Everyone has their own stories and their own struggles. We need to better support those kids."
Other families are deciding not to enroll their kids at East for the next school year.
"East will be safer one day, but it’s not happening next year, too many things have to happen," said Dr. Brandon Davison-Tracy.
Davison-Tracy has a daughter who's a senior at East. His son is in 8th grade now. They've decided not to enroll him at the school their family loves, and where Davison-Tracy graduated.
"'Dr. Brandon you’re leaving East? Don’t you want to fix it? Don’t you want to be part of the solution?' I tried. I had my daughter there. We didn’t feel safe when she was there. She would come home in tears saying that she can’t believe what’s happening but now it’s to a point where I’m irresponsible doing it," he said. "I can’t wait for it to be fixed while my son is still in high school."
He said gun violence around the school has been persisting for a while.
"It wasn’t a safe place before Luis was murdered. It wasn’t a safe place before those administrators were shot," said Davison-Tracy. "They’re so used to the lockouts and lockdowns that they don’t know different."
Davison-Tracy said he's letting his daughter, Sophia, decide if she wants to go back on Wednesday.
"I think she's going to want to go back to class because she loves her teachers. She loves her friends. She loves that environment, and she wants to fix it," said Davison-Tracy. "I'll keep my fingers crossed and pray for her safety for the next two months but I can't have my son there for the next four years."
As a pediatrician in the community, a lot of his patients are high school students in the area.
"When I talk to the kids, it feels like they're in a war zone. They have a 'flat affect'...it's post-traumatic stress," he said. "The joy and energy of being a kid is drained from their face. They're always in crisis. They can't get out of it."
Davison-Tracy said it's important that parents listen to their kids, give them an outlet to talk about their trauma, and advocate for them, too.
He said SROs should have never been taken out of schools.
"If that just means one kiddo feels a little bit more safe going to school that day where he or she might’ve stayed home or been a little bit more distracted in their classroom, then they’re going to learn more," he said. "We need to go and know our teachers' names, know our administrators' names, know who’s on the school board and hold them to task and hold them accountable."
His daughter will graduate in a few months. He said it almost feels like she'll be coming home from war.
"What am I supposed to say to that 17-year-old where he or she, the only way she feels safe is to carry a weapon to school?" he said. "East High School is a beautiful place with beautiful people it just happens to be at the forefront now, but it’s going to be someone else’s high school eventually. It’s going to happen at East again. It’s going to happen at someplace else, again."
Curcio is hopeful things will be OK at school, but knows a lot has to change, first.
"I know that there’s people who are working to keep me safe... so I feel better but it feels like there’s more that can be done," said Curcio.
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