Denver Public Schools has experienced a painful start to the school year.
First came the news that a 9-year-old fourth-grader at Shoemaker Elementary had taken his own life just four days into the school year. Jamel Myles’ mother says he was bullied at school and had recently come out to her as gay.
And then on Tuesday, a teenager was shot and critically injured right outside DSST: Cole Middle School on the district’s Mitchell Campus. The school went on lockdown, and worried parents flocked to the area, with some telling reporters they were frustrated neither the school nor the district shared information with them. In an email to parents and the broader district community, Superintendent Tom Boasberg described the victim as a teenage DPS student.
Boasberg said everyone who works in the district is reflecting on what they can do to better protect students.
“These times of sorrow and grief call on us to take the time to reflect on what we can do – both small and large efforts, individually and as a community – to consistently support our most vulnerable children,” he wrote. “We must do everything possible to protect our children.”
He outlined the work Denver Public Schools has done to be more welcoming to LGBTQ students but also said too many students still experience “intolerance, meanness, and disrespect” from other children and from adults.
And he said everyone needs to know the warning signs of depression and suicide – and not be afraid to ask questions.
“If your child has warning signs of depression or suicide, don’t be afraid to ask if they have had thoughts about suicide,” he wrote. “Raising the issue of suicide does not increase the risk. Instead, it decreases the risk by providing an opportunity for help.”
Read the full letter below.
Supporting our students with love, dignity, and respect
It is with profound sadness that we learned this week of the death of Jamel Myles, a fourth grade student at Shoemaker Elementary School, and the shooting of a teenage DPS student (whose name has not yet been released) near our Mitchell Campus today. We extend our deepest sympathies to the families and school communities of these children. These tragedies have caused deep sadness and reflection throughout our community.
These times of sorrow and grief call on us to take the time to reflect on what we can do — both small and large efforts, individually and as a community — to consistently support our most vulnerable children. We must do everything possible to protect our children.
We all play a vital role in seeking to prevent our children from trying to take their own lives. DPS teaches the Signs of Suicide (SOS) curriculum, which focuses on supporting students to identify warning signs of depression or thoughts of suicide and make a report to a trusted adult for support. Our school social workers, psychologists and school nurses are trained in suicide prevention and supports.
Families are encouraged to teach your children to acknowledge if someone has a problem, be caring and tell an adult. Remind your child that there is help available if they or a friend ever feels sad or depressed. You can share with them the phone numbers for both Safe2Tell (877-542-7233) and the National Suicide Hotline (800-273-8255).
If your child has warning signs of depression or suicide, don’t be afraid to ask if they have had thoughts about suicide. Raising the issue of suicide does not increase the risk. Instead, it decreases the risk by providing an opportunity for help. DPS has additional resources for families to help prevent student suicide available in this video.
In DPS, we are deeply committed to ensuring that all members of our school community are treated with dignity and respect, regardless of sexual orientation, gender identity or transgender status. It is critical that our students receive all the supports they need to learn and thrive in a safe and welcoming environment. Our policies and practices reflect this commitment to ensuring that our LGBTQ+ (lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgendered, queer) students can pursue their education with dignity and joy — from training to prevent and stop bullying, to policies and guidance materials that fully respect gender identity (including use of preferred pronouns and restrooms).
However, we also know that, as a society, we still have a long way to go to ensure that no child is ever bullied or treated with disrespect because of their self-identification. This past spring, I spoke with a group of our LGBTQ+ youth, who told me story after story both of the love and support they had received in our schools, but also of intolerance, meanness and disrespect from fellow students and adults. All of us – parents, educators, and fellow students – need to lead the way in setting an example of love, respect and dignity for our LGBTQ+ youth.
We are fortunate in DPS to have strong LGBTQ+ educators, who serve as strong leaders and role models for our students. We are also fortunate to have partnerships to support our LGBTQ+ youth, including One Colorado at the state level and the Gay, Lesbian, Straight Education Network (GLSEN) at the national network. Both organizations have excellent resources for families and students. Both organizations have excellent resources for families and students.
Thank you for your shared commitment to the health and safety of our youth. As our thoughts are with the teenager in critical condition tonight and we mourn Jamel’s passing, let us all come together to celebrate the light that our children bring into the world and ensure that all of their friends and peers throughout our community continue to shine their lights brightly.