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Local News

East High School Shooting Prompts Denver Schools to Reinstate Armed Officers

Credit: iStock

by Lindsey Toomer, Colorado Newsline

Following the shooting of two faculty members inside East High School in Denver on Wednesday, the Denver Public Schools Board of Education unanimously voted to temporarily suspend its policy that prohibited the presence of school resource officers in DPS schools. 

A student who was being routinely searched for weapons under a safety agreement he had with East High School shot and injured two faculty members before fleeing the scene. The suspect, 17-year-old Austin Lyle, was found dead of a self-inflicted gunshot would in Park County not far from where authorities located his vehicle. 

DPS Superintendent Alex Marrero on Wednesday announced he would reintroduce armed officers to the city’s high schools following the shooting. The school board voted to remove school resource officers in 2020, but after Marrero’s statement the board shared its support of reintroducing officers

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“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,” a statement tweeted by board Vice President Auon’tai Anderson said. “In addition we will continue to work collaboratively with our community partners including law enforcement and our local & state legislature to make our community safer.”

The board held a special meeting Thursday morning in light of the incident and talked in executive session for over four hours about issues related to security. A memorandum the board unanimously passed once back in a public session directs Marrero to work with Denver Mayor Michael Hancock and Denver police to externally fund two armed officers for each high school in the district and up to two mental health professionals for the remainder of the school year.

Marrero and Board of Education President Xóchitl Gaytán both acknowledged the loss of a student life in Lyle’s death Wednesday, and said at a press conference Thursday the district “failed him.” They also thanked Hancock and Denver police for their speedy response and support, and extended well wishes to the two injured staff members in recovery. Dean of Culture Eric Sinclair is still undergoing treatment at Denver Health while Jerald Mason, a restorative practice coordinator, returned home Thursday.

Gaytán said she “deeply regrets” everything the students and staff at East High School have endured over the past few months. 

The memorandum the board passed also directs Marrero to develop a “systemic long-term safety operational plan.” Gaytán said board and district leadership will be visiting every community across the city as they work together to develop a safety and security plan. 

“Whether you’re a student in the district, whether you’re a family member, a community leader, an elected official, we want to hear from you to develop this long-term plan,” Gaytán said. “The end result needs to be a very multifaceted approach to deal with this very complex issue.”

Marrero said the district was not aware of Lyle’s prior charges relating to firearms or that he was on probation but that staff at East High School was. He noted that a “common administrator” typically engaged with Lyle upon his arrival to school, but with that administrator not available, the two who were shot engaged with Lyle Wednesday morning. Marrero said the district will continue to be open to all students regardless of any contact with the criminal justice system. 

“There are a lot of students that are struggling, whether it’s emotional, academic or behavioral, and we receive students all throughout the year,” Marrero said. “We are obligated to provide a free and adequate education for all students, so of course our doors will continue to be open for all students.” 

Marrero added that armed officers have never and will never be the ones conducting pat downs on students who require one before entering school, and that won’t change with their temporary reinstatement to campuses. He said educators are able to conduct such searches under a “caretaker exemption” to probable cause, with consent of the student or their parents. 

How many students are subject to a safety plan like Lyle’s changes on any given day, Marrero said, so he could not share a specific number of students on a safety plan.

The shooting Wednesday was the second incidence of gun violence East has seen this year, following the death of 16-year-old Luis Garcia, a junior at the school, who was shot outside the school in February. Students from the school and across the district marched to the Colorado Capitol on March 3 in support of proposed gun-safety legislation, and hundreds filled the Capitol Thursday to talk with legislators in support of a gun control package.

This story was written by Lindsey Toomer, a reporter for the Colorado Newsline, where this story first appeared.

Colorado Newsline is part of States Newsroom, a network of news bureaus supported by grants and a coalition of donors as a 501c(3) public charity. Colorado Newsline maintains editorial independence. Contact Editor Quentin Young for questions: info@coloradonewsline.com. Follow Colorado Newsline on Facebook and Twitter.