Upset after latest shooting, East High parents demand transparency from Denver Public Schools

A stone sign that says “Denver East High School” sits outside a brick school building.
Parents are demanding transparency from Denver Public Schools after a shooting at East High on March 22. (Melanie Asmar/Chalkbeat)

As parents waited to be reunited with their children outside Denver’s East High School after a shooting on March 22, a few of them made an agreement: They’d meet back in the same spot two days later to talk about how to make schools safer.

That meeting was the start of a new group called Parents - Safety Advocacy Group, or P-SAG. The group, whose Facebook page now has more than 600 members, held its first press conference Monday to make two demands of Denver Public Schools.

Both boil down to transparency. East parents have gotten “next to nothing” in terms of communication from Denver Public Schools leaders about what will be different when students return to school this week after two weeks at home, said East parent Steve Katsaros.

“They had an ongoing process of under-informing us and shoving things under the rug,” Katsaros said. “There’s no more room under the rug.”

The P-SAG parents want the district to release an “improved safety plan” by 8:05 a.m. Wednesday, which is when the first bell will ring for students at East. 

East students have been out of school since March 22, when 17-year-old Austin Lyle shot and injured two deans before taking his own life. The school has been closed since then due to a combination of mental health days, teacher training days, and spring break. 

The parents also want the Denver school board to stop meeting in closed-door executive sessions. The day after the shooting, the board met for five hours in executive session. When board members emerged, they announced they were pausing a 2020 policy banning police from schools. They called for the city to put as many as two officers at each high school. 

Instead, the city agreed to assign 14 officers to work as school resource officers, or SROs, at 13 of Denver’s more than 50 high schools. East will have two officers, while the other 12 campuses will have one officer each for the remainder of the school year.

In a statement Monday, school board President Xóchitl “Sochi” Gaytán said the board will not stop meeting in executive session to discuss “sensitive and confidential matters.”

“Without executive sessions, public boards would be unable to discuss privileged information, which would hinder their ability to effectively govern their organization,” Gaytán said. “While we understand the desire for further transparency, eliminating the use of executive sessions is not currently under consideration.”

In a separate statement, a DPS spokesperson said East will have an additional district safety officer on campus in addition to the SROs.

The district is also working to expand staff and student access to mental health providers at school and via telehealth, spokesperson Rae Childress said.

Superintendent Alex Marrero and other administrators “have been working intimately with East High School faculty to address personal safety concerns and the internal safety climate of the school,” Childress said. The school was set to hold a meeting to gather feedback from parents, students, and staff Monday night.

P-SAG is still working to develop a list of specific school safety ideas, Katsaros said. But he said he’d personally like to see a secure perimeter around the school, spot checks of student lockers, and K-9 dogs that could check for drugs and gun powder. 

Katsaros would also like to see metal detectors, at least for students who are on safety plans due to their past behavior. The two East deans were shot while searching Lyle for weapons at the beginning of the school day, as required by Lyle’s safety plan. 

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

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