A Call for a More Comprehensive Safety Plan for Denver Public Schools
As a member of the Denver School Board, I cannot stand idly by while our schools face the risk of adopting an inadequate safety plan. The recently released Draft 1.0 of the Denver Public Schools (DPS) Safety Plan, proposed by Superintendent Dr. Alex Marrero, has left me deeply concerned about its potential impact on our diverse student body.
One of the most glaring issues with the proposed plan is its questionable basis on survey results that do not accurately represent the entire DPS community. The survey disproportionately represents a minority of the students and families we serve, casting doubt on the validity of the plan and its potential effectiveness. Also, the survey could have been filled out by anyone that had access to it, meaning individuals from across the nation could have influenced its results.
Moreover, the plan’s suggestion to add metal detectors and school resource officers (SROs) to campuses could have dire consequences, especially in a district where over 80% of the students are people of color. Instead of fostering a safe and inclusive learning environment, this approach could perpetuate a sense of distrust and unease among students, further exacerbating the school-to-prison pipeline.
The events that transpired at East High School over the past year, including two students being shot outside the school, a swatting incident, and a recent school shooting, underscore the need for a more comprehensive safety plan. It is important to recognize that the presence of metal detectors or SROs may not have necessarily prevented these incidents.
As we discuss the issue of gun violence and school safety, it is crucial to recognize that this problem is not isolated to a single school. Gun violence has affected all of us across the district, leaving lasting scars on our students, educators, and communities. When addressing this pressing issue, we must take into account the voices and concerns of all stakeholders, especially those who have been historically marginalized and underrepresented in decision-making processes.
Families of color in the Far-Northeast and Southwest regions of our district have expressed to me that they feel ignored in the ongoing conversation about school safety. It is disheartening to learn that these communities, which have been disproportionately impacted by gun violence, feel as if their voices and needs are being sidelined. We must do better to ensure that all families and communities are heard and included in the development and implementation of our safety plan.
These families have made it clear that they are not asking for increased policing or over-policing methods within their schools. Instead, they are advocating for more mental health support and a commitment from government officials at all levels to address the root causes of gun violence in our communities. We must listen to these pleas and work towards providing the resources and support they need.
To create a truly comprehensive safety plan, we must collaborate with other branches of government and community partners to address the complex issue of gun violence. This means not only focusing on the immediate safety concerns within our schools but also on the broader social, economic, and legislative factors that contribute to gun violence in our communities.
It is our collective responsibility to ensure that all students feel safe, supported, and heard within our schools. As we continue to discuss and refine the safety plan for Denver Public Schools, we must prioritize the voices of marginalized communities, invest in mental health resources, and work with government partners to address the root causes of gun violence.
In addition to addressing the concerns discussed earlier, we must also examine and reform the current practices related to safety plans and pat-downs for our students. The experience of being subjected to a pat-down can be intrusive and distressing, particularly for students of color who may already feel unfairly targeted. To minimize the negative impact of these procedures, we must implement thoughtful reforms that prioritize the dignity and well-being of our students.
One such reform is to ensure that campus safety officers employed by Denver Public Schools are the ones responsible for conducting any necessary pat-downs, not our school administrators or educators. By centralizing this responsibility within our existing campus safety staff, we can provide a more consistent and controlled approach to these procedures. Moreover, we can invest in comprehensive training for campus safety officers to ensure that they carry out pat-downs with professionalism, sensitivity, and respect for students’ rights and privacy.
It is important to recognize that the goal of any safety plan should be to create a secure and nurturing learning environment for all students. Therefore, the implementation of pat-down procedures should always be guided by evidence-based practices and a genuine concern for student welfare rather than being driven by fear or bias.
Rather than focusing on a reactive approach, we should invest in proactive measures such as increasing mental health resources. The current ratio of 400 mental health professionals serving 205 schools is inadequate for the 90,000 students and 15,000 educators in our district. Our students deserve better, and we must do everything in our power to ensure they receive the support they need to thrive academically and emotionally.
The COVID-19 pandemic has had far-reaching consequences for school districts across the United States, and Denver Public Schools is no exception. Our budget, like that of many other districts, has been significantly impacted by the challenges of the past few years. Reduced tax revenues, increased spending on remote learning technology, and the costs associated with maintaining a safe and clean environment for in-person learning have all contributed to the financial strain on our district.
In light of these budgetary constraints, we must be especially cautious when considering proposals that would add further financial burdens on our schools. Implementing metal detectors and increasing the presence of SROs would not only require a substantial initial investment but would also entail ongoing costs for maintenance, training, and personnel.
Diverting resources to harden our schools in this manner could have unintended consequences for other essential programs and initiatives within the district. Classroom supplies, extracurricular activities, teacher training, and support services could all be negatively impacted by the reallocation of funds.
It is important to clarify that my concerns regarding the proposed safety plan do not stem from an anti-police stance. Rather, I am against bad policing practices that may negatively impact our students, particularly those from marginalized communities. I have confidence in Chief Ron Thomas, who is working diligently to address past issues within the Denver Police Department and implement reforms to improve community relations. To further enhance the relationship between law enforcement and our students, I believe that all officers in Denver should be trained to serve as School Resource Officers (SROs) and understand how to interact effectively with our students.
In summary, our focus must be on addressing the diverse concerns of our district, including reforming pat-down procedures, investing in mental health resources, and advocating for community-driven solutions to gun violence. By doing so, we can work together to create a safer, more inclusive, and more nurturing educational environment for all Denver Public Schools students.
I cannot support the current safety plan in its present form. If the plan remains unchanged, I will be compelled to vote against its ratification and actively lobby against it.
To safeguard the future of our students, I urge Superintendent Dr. Alex Marrero and the entire DPS community to reevaluate the proposed safety plan and work together to develop a more inclusive, effective, and equitable approach.
Our students deserve nothing less.
Auon’tai M. Anderson, Denver School Board Vice President