“Our schools should be places of learning, exploration and joy where we celebrate our kids’ growth. They should never be hardened bunkers bristling with firearms.”
Dear DPS Community,
On Feb. 14, we lost another 17 students and educators in a mass shooting in a public school. We watched images of kids running terrified from a place they should feel safe and saw cellphone video showing children hiding in classrooms where they should have been studying geometry or discussing their latest reading assignment. Our hearts and prayers go out to the Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School community in Parkland, Florida.
In the aftermath of this horrific tragedy, we couldn’t disagree more strongly with President Trump and the National Rifle Association that the key to student safety is putting more guns in our schools or “hardening our schools,” turning them into prison-like fortresses. Our schools should be places of learning, exploration and joy where we celebrate our kids’ growth. They should never be hardened bunkers bristling with firearms.
For too many of us in Denver Public Schools, school shootings are not horrors that happen somewhere else. Our director of counseling services, Samantha Haviland, survived Columbine. Our chief of safety, Mike Eaton, texted with his son as the boy huddled with his class in a closet for more than two hours while a gunman roamed his high school, Arapahoe High School in Littleton.
We know how vitally important it is that we do everything possible to keep our students and educators safe. Every school has an emergency plan and an emergency team whose members undergo special training. Every staff member is trained in four standard protocols — lockdown, lockout, evacuate and shelter in place. Every student goes through three types of drills — lockdown, lockout and shelter in place — within the first 30 days of each semester. Every month, students practice evacuation during fire drills.
And, every threat we receive is investigated thoroughly by Denver Police school violence detectives and our Safety team.
We have a security team of 135 who work around the clock to keep each campus in our city safe. About a quarter of the DPS Safety team are armed. Another 15 Denver Police officers, also armed, are stationed in our schools. We have invested, thanks to our bond program, in significantly upgrading the security of our schools and are able to remotely secure any school within seconds.
We know how necessary and important these things are, and yet there is a level of pain and anguish that these are the kinds of activities we’re conducting in our schools with our teachers and our kids.
The day after the shootings in Parkland, during our public board of education meeting, I talked about an emotion I felt in addition to pain and sorrow — anger. I am angry that we create this level of risk to the health, safety and lives of our students because we allow easy access to murderous assault weapons.
I urge all of us to raise our voices to push to make the changes that are so necessary, including limiting access to weapons of war. Automatic weapons should have no place in our society — not among students nor among adults. Yes, I want more resources for mental health supports in our schools. But we need to be clear that the reason our country has so many more school shootings than any other is not because other countries’ mental health supports are better than ours — it is because they have different gun laws.
Finally, it is important to note that every single threat or weapons report our security team has investigated so far this year has come because of the relationships that have been built between the children and adults in our schools, through students reporting concerns in person or through reporting systems such as Safe2Tell. Please encourage your children if they have concerns to talk to a school counselor or call Safe2Tell at 1-877-542-7233 (SAFE). This can be done anonymously.
In the aftermath of yet another mass shooting in a public school, let’s work together on solutions that will keep our kids safe and our classrooms the places of learning, exploration and joy they were meant to be.
This week, we celebrated the MyTech program and several partner organizations that made generous donations to help connect Denver families with internet access. Learn more about this week’s event in 60 seconds!
Didn’t see last week’s DPS News Now video? Not to worry! DPS News Now videos are posted to Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, YouTube and Vimeo every Friday. All DPS News Now videos are also available in Spanish as Lo último en DPS.
At Hallett Academy, students celebrated Black History Month with a unique project: an interactive black history museum. The brainchild of Discovery Link Program Specialist Antoinette Foster, the exhibit features pieces from students and adults celebrating African-American history and culture.
“I remember Black History Month being something that I really looked forward to — like, ‘Who am I going to research? What am I going to learn about?’ And I wanted to give our students an opportunity to do those things … that made you discover something about yourself or someone you know that you may not have,” Antoinette said.
In the exhibit, students and school team members created and showcased aspects of black history — aimed at inspiring students to make history themselves.
“We are scientists, we are baseball players, we are tennis players. … We can pretty much do everything,” said Tana Johnson, a paraprofessional at the school. “And that’s what I want the kids to know. There’s not a limit to what we can do. And the more we expose them to people who have done it, the more they will know that they can do it as well.”
Watch this DPS Features video here.
These visits are voluntary, usually just 20 to 30 minutes long, and are hosted somewhere outside of school, such as in a family’s home, a local park or library. The conversation centers around what a family’s hopes and dreams are for their child. Home visits create stronger relationships between a child’s home and school, and are proven to improve student achievement, attendance and behavior as a result.
Want to learn more or sign up? Request a home visit.