DENVER — Denver’s school board voted unanimously Thursday to allow armed police back into the city’s high schools, a decision that comes a day after two administrators were shot at East High School and nearly three years after the board decided to remove officers from buildings.
The Board of Education suspended its policy barring school resource officers through June and directed Superintendent Alex Marrero to work with Denver Mayor Michael Hancock to “externally fund” two armed police officers and as many as two mental health workers at all high schools for the rest of the academic year.
“The Board of Education will request that the Denver Police Department ensure every armed police officer is appropriately trained in the use of firearms, de-escalation techniques, policing in a school environment, knowledgeable of the school community they intend to serve and skilled in community policing,” the seven-member board wrote in the memo to the superintendent approved Thursday.
The school board directed Marrero to develop a long-term “safety operational plan” and submit it by June 30. That will entail a series of community meetings to gather feedback.
“The end of this needs to be a very multifaceted approach to solve this complex problem,” DPS board President Xochitl “Sochi” Gaytan said at a news conference.
On Wednesday, Marrero said he will station two armed officers from the Denver Police Department at East for the rest of the academic year. He has also said he is “committing” to have an armed officer at each of Denver’s comprehensive high schools despite the fact that doing so “likely violates” school board policy, according to a letter he sent to directors.
“However, I can no longer stand on the sidelines,” Marrero wrote in the letter to the school board. “I am willing to accept the consequences of my actions.”
The superintendent’s decision was supported by Mayor Michael Hancock and comes after police say a student shot and wounded two administrators inside the school as they performed a daily search of the teen for weapons. The shooting was the second to occur at East in about a month.
Junior Luis Garcia,16, died earlier this month after he was shot outside of the high school in February. Ever since then, East students and parents have called for tighter security.
East students and parents have called for officers in school, as well as for the district to find other ways to improve safety, such as investing in community programs or adding metal detectors. Students have also advocated for more gun legislation.
“Why have we charged underpaid educators with pat downs?” said parent Lynsee Hudson Lang, who has a son who attends East and attended the school board meeting in the morning.
“I am grateful they are looking towards meaningful steps,” she said, adding that she was looking for more information about the decision
The school board voted in 2020 to remove the Denver Police Department’s resource officers following the protests over the murder of George Floyd, an unarmed Black man killed by a white police officer in Minneapolis.
Members have argued that police officers in schools are harmful to students of color and contribute to the school-to-prison pipeline.
Michael Eaton, the former head of the district’s Department of Safety, said he disagreed with the 2020 vote and supported Marrero’s decision to add police back to schools.
“We just can’t quantify the deterrent and the effectiveness an armed officer has in preventing these type of incidents,” said Eaton, who served as chief of the department for more a decade and left in November.
“They are not there for punitive measures,” he said. “They are build relationships. They build a lot of value when it comes to intelligence gathering, mentorship, to being a positive role model during crisis.”