News A Pathway to Safer Schools in DPS

Like many in our community, Denver Families for Public Schools (Denver Families) is deeply concerned about the current safety and well-being of school communities. Acts of violence and gun-related incidents on and near Denver Public Schools (DPS) campuses are far too prevalent. We must not forget that the most recent tragedy at East High School is not an isolated incident but one of many acts of violence that have taken place in our communities, leaving countless lives shattered and scarred. 

In light of the DPS Board of Education’s call for Superintendent Alex Marrero to create a long-term, comprehensive school safety plan by June 30, 2023, Denver Families urges the Superintendent to consider the areas below. Students, families, school staff, and community members should all be at the table as these policies are designed and to monitor their progress as they are implemented.

School Resource Officers (SROs) | We must acknowledge that there is a debate about whether SROs are effective in mitigating school shootings and gun-related incidents on campuses. They may provide a visible deterrent to potential attackers and respond quickly to threats, thereby preventing or minimizing harm, and can also act as a liaison between schools and law enforcement, promoting a safer school environment. 

However, there is also evidence that when poorly implemented, SROs may criminalize youth, escalate situations, and traumatize students, particularly students of color and students with disabilities. DPS also has its own safety and security team, some of whom are armed. We call on district leaders to perform a full review of existing and proposed armed security measures and clearly articulate the roles of these teams and SROs in schools.

SROs who have received significant bias training and practice community policing may be one tool in a toolbox of resources to create the safest school environments possible. However, SROs must be implemented thoughtfully and comprehensively alongside other school safety initiatives. Ultimately, school communities should be the primary decision makers on whether or not SROs are part of their staffing model. 

Mental Health Services | Providing mental health services in schools – such as counseling, therapy, and support groups – can help students address emotional and psychological issues that may lead to violence or gun-related incidents. However, schools and the district cannot be expected to provide the full scope of these services. There must also be investment in and collaboration with the public health services at the city and state levels to ensure students have access to the emotional and mental health supports they need to thrive.

Restorative Justice Programs | Restorative justice programs focus on repairing harm and restoring relationships rather than punishing students. These programs aim to address underlying issues, such as trauma, mental health, and social-emotional skills, that contribute to violence and misbehavior. We ask district leaders to consider additional investments into these programs to promote broader implementation in schools throughout DPS. Restorative justice programs can lead to a reduction in suspensions, expulsions, and disciplinary referrals, and an improvement in school climate.

Community-based Interventions | Community-based interventions, such as mentoring programs, after-school activities, and youth development programs, can provide students with positive role models, skills, and opportunities to engage in pro-social activities. It is vital that DPS partner with community-based organizations with a track record of demonstrable outcomes and research based practices to ensure that these programs are highly impactful. DPS should prioritize partnerships with proven gang violence prevention programs to address the role that gangs play in disrupting communities. Quality community-based interventions can reduce the risk of violence and delinquency, improve academic outcomes, and promote positive youth development. 

Threat Assessment Teams | Threat assessment teams are groups of multidisciplinary school, district, and law enforcement personnel who are trained to identify, evaluate, and manage potential threats of violence or gun-related incidents. These teams can prevent violence on school campuses by using a structured, objective process to assess the severity and likelihood of a threat and to develop a plan for intervention. We call on district leaders to review existing threat assessment teams at DPS to identify strengths, build on what’s working, and address gaps. 

To ensure the safety of schools, we strongly encourage policymakers at every level – local, state, and national – not to fall prey to deceptively simple solutions. The issue of gun violence in schools is complex and multifaceted, calling for both a robust re-envisioning of school safety initiatives at the district level and real action on common sense gun safety laws by state and national lawmakers. 

At Denver Families, our team will be engaging with school communities throughout DPS about this critically important issue in the coming weeks and months. We are committed to working with those who are the most directly impacted by these policies and ensuring that families, educators, and students have their voices heard. 

Our press release is available here.

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