Our DPS Weekly: Redefining Safety in Our Schools in Support of Our Students

Jun. 12, 2020

Redefining Safety in Our Schools in Support of Our Students

Dear Team DPS,

George Floyd’s death, and every tragic death of a Black person at the hands of law enforcement, have brought to light how we as a school community can respond and do more for our students of color. Ever since the issue of removing School Resource Officers (SROs, the 18 uniformed Denver Police officers who work full time in 16 of our schools) was first raised, I emphasized how critical it is to hear from many different voices in the community.

At last night’s Board of Education meeting, we heard from multiple stakeholders, with a variety of thoughtful and heartfelt perspectives. And it’s critical to consider the full context on this important issue: strong safety resources on our campuses; trusting relationships with the adults in our schools; and the urgent and absolute need to end the school-to-prison pipeline.

I appreciate the board’s forcefulness and tenacity in bringing this issue forward, and the board unanimously passed this resolution to redefine school safety in DPS through the lens of affirmative support of students. I am inspired by their commitment to providing holistic solutions to security in our schools, which not only support our students, but also keep our children out of the juvenile justice system. The action taken by the board directs us to reduce the number of SROs by 25% by the end of the calendar year, to end the SRO contract with the police department at the end of the next school year, and to convene a taskforce to develop the transition plan.

We are taking this action in response to the outcry of pain and distrust we have heard about the presence of police in our schools, especially from and for our African American and Black community. We know that actions speak much louder than words, particularly when it comes to becoming a school district with Equity as our core identity. And we know that many people spoke loudly and supportively of the individual contributions of the SROs who work in our schools. These two truths, while seemingly in conflict, have long coexisted. Our charge now is to forge a new pathway forward, working in collaboration with our school leaders, students, community, and safety team to design the appropriate relationship with the Denver Police Department. I want to personally thank the SROs who have worked with us over the past several years and I am hopeful that we can use this conversation as a way to improve.

There is absolutely nothing more important than all of our students feeling safe, cared for, and protected in our schools. An education does not happen without that. Our students need to trust the adults who are on our campuses with them.

As we make this gradual transition, we will be working closely with our school leaders to understand and prioritize their needs for school safety and for supporting their students. We will work to ensure school safety without the presence of on-campus police officers, and we will focus on providing social-emotional resources, implementing restorative practices, and supporting our students’ needs for both personal growth and accountability.

We are committed to making sure our campuses continue to be as safe as they have been.

I also wanted to provide an update on our plans for a safe return to school in August.

First of all, as a reminder, today is the last day to respond to the survey that we sent out at the end of May to ask for your feedback on the three options that our educator-led Workgroup put together for next school year. Our overriding priority continues to be the health and wellness of our students and staff, and these options reflect that. They are also consistent with current guidelines from our health partners.

We also understand the importance of being responsive as health guidelines change and conditions improve. This week Gov. Jared Polis has given an indication that state guidance for schools may allow us to open schools in August and offer full in-person instruction for all students, as long as our local health departments sign off on our plans.

That’s certainly welcome and encouraging news, as we know how difficult it is for students to be away from our classrooms and away from their friends and teachers. I also want to emphasize that the current health restrictions have not changed, and we remain committed to ensuring the health and safety of our students when reopening our classrooms.

We are planning for a variety of possible options for our students’ return — including a mix of in-person and remote learning, full in-person learning if conditions improve, and full remote learning in case a coronavirus outbreak requires that — so we can adjust as needed based on how health conditions change.

We will continue to keep you updated as we learn more from our health partners, and I want to thank you again for your cooperation and understanding.

Warm regards,