By Gannon Rothman
Denver Public Schools’ Board of Education has decided to return police officers to certain campuses, and it will implement a long-term safety plan in response to recent violence.
The divided school board voted to overturn its 2020 decision to initially remove school resource officers (SROs) from schools after some board members said police unfairly target students of color and that the policy contributes to a “school-to-prison” pipeline.
The return of police officers to Colorado’s largest school district comes after a March incident in which two East High School staff members were injured in a shooting that involved a student, sparking a debate about whether SROs should come back to schools. Denver North High School Principal German Echevarria said the effectiveness of the decision will depend on having the right officer in the building.
“Our job is to use them as a resource,” said Echevarria, who took over as principal last year. “Ultimately the school is who makes all the decisions based on behavior and follow-up for incidents.”
Before becoming the principal at the school, Echevarria was the assistant principal for about three years. He has lived in North Denver for more than 20 years and has two children who attend North High School. In a survey conducted at North High School, Echevarria said 80% of the staff and 88% of students who responded said they feel safe in the building on a daily basis.
Another survey given to North High families and students in April shared by the school had about 79% of families responding that they wanted the officers back in schools; 32% of students said they wanted them back; 19% said they do not want them back; and nearly 50% said they were unsure.
“The relationship is really going to be key on how students, staff and the community feel with (SROs’) return,” Echevarria said.
According to a survey received from the Denver School Leaders Association (DSLA), 80% of principals who participated said they are in favor of officers returning to schools, though 60% of them believed the school board and superintendent should make the decision.
Data from Denver Classroom Teachers Association (DCTA) showed the majority of teachers preferred each school make the decision. Charmaine Lindsay, board member for DPS District 5 and an advocate of SROs, said it should be up to the board and administrators to decide where officers should be placed. “Since the pandemic, youth violence has gone way up. The problem is kids bringing handguns. We shouldn’t say we can’t have school resource officers,” Lindsay said. Lindsay recently called on bringing back SROs for the purpose of preventing gun violence.”
Scott Baldermann, board member for District 1, was involved with the initial 2020 policy for the removal of SROs, but was one of three members who voted for their return.
“This is about deterrence,” Baldermann said. “If it stops one kid from bringing a gun to school, I think it’s worth it.”
But Board Vice President Auon’tai Anderson said the decision to reinstate officers would send the wrong message to students of color across Denver schools. Anderson has been one of the members behind the pushback to keep SROs out of schools. He, along with members Scott Esserman and Michelle Quattlebaum, sought an alternative method using “community resource officers,” in which police are stationed near the school. Under its recently released long-term safety plan, DPS outlined its specific strategies for mental health, bullying prevention and staff support.
In the plan, the district will “develop Guiding Principles that outline the exceptions and future vision for the relationship with DPS and SROs to align to DPS core mission and values.” Citations and arrests will also be monitored and will be provided in quarterly reports to the DPS Board’s consent agenda through the end of the 2025-26 school year.
“We are going to develop a criteria that will hold SROs accountable, which didn’t exist last year,” DPS Superintendent Alex Marrero said.
Additionally, SROs who do not follow the district’s policy, administration policy or the district’s discipline matrix will promptly be removed by Marrero, who said he hopes the plan invites members of the community to take it seriously.
The plan calls for officers to return in the fall to the same DPS-managed comprehensive high schools where they were placed following the East incident. In an interview, Marrero said a permanent place for SROs will be identified this fall, for which he will advocate for community involvement.