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After East High shooting, Denver superintendent commits to return police to comprehensive high schools

A group of men in suits and one in police dress uniform speak at a press conference. They are outside with a podium and microphones set up in front of them. East High School is visible behind them.

Superintendent Alex Marrero addresses reporters outside East High School after two deans were shot on March 22, 2023. Denver Mayor Michael Hancock, left, and Denver Police Chief Ron Thomas, right in uniform, promised to work with the school district to support school safety.

Erica Meltzer / Challkbeat

Denver Superintendent Alex Marrero said he will have an armed officer at each of the district’s comprehensive high schools for the rest of the school year.

In a letter to school board members sent Wednesday, hours after a student shot two deans at East High School, Marrero wrote that he is “committing to having an armed officer at each comprehensive high school,” and two at East.

Marrero acknowledged that the move likely violates school board policy and said he was willing to accept the consequences. In an unsigned joint statement issued a few hours later, Denver school board members said they support Marrero working more closely with law enforcement. The statement did not directly address his announced policy change.

The Denver school board voted in 2020 to remove police officers known as school resource officers, or SROs, from schools. 

That directive was enshrined in a policy that mandates the superintendent “not staff district schools with school resource officers or the consistent presence of security armed with guns or any other law enforcement personnel.”

“However, I can no longer stand on the sidelines,” Marrero wrote in a letter obtained by Chalkbeat and confirmed as accurate by a district spokesperson. “I am willing to accept the consequences of my actions.”

In their statement, school board members said they support Marrero and asked the community to rally around the employees, students, and families affected by the shooting.

“The Board of Education supports the decision of Superintendent Marrero to work in partnership with local law enforcement to create safer learning spaces across Denver Public Schools for the remainder of this school year,” the board wrote. “In addition we will continue to work collaboratively with our community partners including law enforcement and our local and state legislature to make our community safer.”

The school board is responsible for hiring and firing the superintendent. Marrero was hired to lead Denver Public Schools in June 2021, after the school board voted to oust SROs.

Denver Mayor Michael Hancock said in a statement Wednesday evening that he supports the decision to return police to schools and has directed the chief to “deploy our officers accordingly in coordination with the school district.”

A Denver community group long critical of police in schools acknowledged in its own statement that “these instances force hard conversations.”

Movimiento Poder, formerly known as Padres y Jóvenes Unidos, said “we will continue fostering real, long-term solutions that solve our gun crisis and make our classrooms a safe place for students of all backgrounds.”

Marrero noted in his letter that Wednesday was the fourth time he’d visited Denver Health hospital’s intensive care unit “due to victims of gun violence.”

“These events should not have happened on my watch or on this board’s watch,” he wrote.

Marrero pledged to have “ongoing discussions” with principals at each high school “to understand their continuing need and desire for this resource,” referring to SROs.

He also requested that he and the board have a conversation Thursday in a closed-door session with select staff.

“It is important we find common ground and ensure our students and staff are safe and find alignment of our existing values,” Marrero wrote. 

Melanie Asmar is a senior reporter for Chalkbeat Colorado, covering Denver Public Schools. Contact Melanie at masmar@chalkbeat.org.

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