In May 2020, George Floyd, a Black man, was murdered by four white police officers in Minneapolis, MN. The ensuing weeks were filled with demonstrations and protests across the nation. It was in that environment that the Denver Board of Education, in June 2020, voted to end the existing program of SROs — school resource officers, or police — stationed in the city’s high schools. The argument was that the SROs were a part of the “school-to-prison pipeline.”
I wasn’t familiar with that term and had to look it up. I found it described by the ACLU of New York as follows:
The school-to-prison pipeline refers to education and public safety policies that push students into the criminal legal system. Schools send students into the pipeline through zero-tolerance disciplinary policies, which involve the police in minor misbehavior and often lead to arrests and juvenile detention referrals. This can result in criminal charges and incarceration. Schools also indirectly push students into the pipeline through suspension, expulsion, discouragement, and even high-stakes testing requirements. The pipeline disproportionately impacts youth of color, youth with disabilities, and LGBTQ students.
Apparently there is no consensus about the efficacy of SROs in preventing crime in public schools. But here in Denver, yesterday, an armed student shot two faculty members at Denver East High School and fled the scene. It was the second shooting at the school in a month — the first resulted in the death of a student.
In the intervening weeks, East students have marched to the state capitol demanding the implementation of stricter gun laws. And after the shooting yesterday, parents and students confronted both the Chief of Police and the superintendent of Denver Public Schools in front of the school. Superintendent Marrero took it upon himself to overrule the Board of Education on the spot and announced the reinstatement of SROs. He stationed two armed officers at East High School and will put one at each high school in the city for the rest of the year. This morning the Board voted to back his decision. No word yet on the policy for fall 2023.
It’s about time sanity has returned. The shooter yesterday had been expelled from another area high school last year for weapons violations. And yet he was allowed to attend East High. Not to worry; he was to be patted down for weapons every day before entering the school.
Yesterday we saw how that worked out.
East students, parents, and teachers are angry, frightened, outraged. So am I. And I’m only the grandmother of a Denver public school student, currently in her junior year. There have been no problems at her school. So far.
She’s scared, her parents are worried, and I was at times in tears yesterday. This is not the way high school should be for her or any Denver students. Or students anywhere. The kids who are serious about school and their educations should not have to share their classrooms with known delinquents and weapons violators. They and their parents should not have to worry about a fellow student shooting them, in class or anywhere on school grounds.
Denver tried mainstreaming the violent, dangerous troublemakers instead of putting them in juvenile facilities, and this shooting was only the most recent example what can happen. Enough! Our students should not be unwitting guinea pigs for some woke idea about ending a so-called school-to-prison pipeline. No, I don’t condone zero tolerance, arresting and worse, handcuffing grade schoolers for misbehaving, for having temper tantrums or shouting at their teacher, or some such. But high schoolers with records of violence or weapons charges don’t belong in regular high schools with law-abiding students.
I can almost laugh now, remembering that my greatest fear in my big public high school was that my name might somehow show up in the school paper’s gossip column. I’d have been mortified. But maybe that’s why I was in tears yesterday. How could we have fallen so far? How could we have regressed to the point where our kids fear being killed at school? How and why have we come to this?
Image: A Denver East parent and child reunite after Wednesday’s shooting. (David Zalubowski/AP)