Mar 23, 2023 - News

Denver school board votes for police in high schools following East High shooting

From left: Superintendent Alex Marrero, school board vice president Auon'tai M. Anderson and school board president Xóchitl Gaytán during a press conference on March 23, 2023, in downtown Denver. Photo: Esteban L. Hernandez/Axios

Denver's school board on Thursday unanimously voted to suspend a policy banning school resource officers, just a day after two deans at East High were shot by a student.

Driving the news: The plan outlined in a memo directs Superintendent Alex Marrero to work with Mayor Michael Hancock to pay for two armed police officers at all high schools through the remainder of the academic year.

  • It will be in effect until June 30.
  • Marrero will also work on a long-term, districtwide safety plan that calls for staffing high schools with two mental health professionals, like social workers or therapists.
  • The memo was issued after a five-hour, closed-door board meeting.

Why it matters: Thursday's action reverses the board's 2020 decision to remove SROs following George Floyd's murder in Minneapolis.

What they're saying: "We have not flip-flopped, what we are doing is we are including more community engagement," school board president Xóchitl Gaytán told reporters on Thursday.

  • "This is the right way forward," Marrero said.

Between the lines: 17-year-old Austin Lyle, the suspected shooter police say, was on probation for a weapons charge, according to the Denver Post. District Attorney Beth McCann said in a statement he died by suicide on Wednesday.

  • Marrero said East High School staff were aware of Lyle's criminal background. He was under an agreement to be patted down each day.
  • The superintendent said even if an armed school resource officer had been present on Wednesday, the officer would not have been able to pat down Lyle — unless there was probable cause to search him.

The other side: Public figures in Denver including former House Speaker Terrance Carroll warned about knee-jerk reactions to the shooting.

  • "Politics is naturally reactive and we are seeing that played out right now in the aftermath of the East High shootings," Carroll tweeted.

The intrigue: Hundreds of students made their way to the Capitol Thursday to call on state lawmakers to pass five gun control bills.

  • The district gave Friday off to all students.

The bottom line: The decision to put armed police officers in district schools is supported by Hancock and McCann, who both issued statements this week backing the effort.

  • "I appreciate this change in direction by the DPS school board, and believe it is the right decision," Hancock said in a statement on Thursday.

Get more local stories in your inbox with Axios Denver.


Support local journalism by becoming a member.

Learn more

More Denver stories

No stories could be found


Get a free daily digest of the most important news in your backyard with Axios Denver.


Support local journalism by becoming a member.

Learn more