A shooting at East High School in Denver, Colorado, on March 22 has reignited a debate over the removal of police officers from schools.
The shooting, which wounded two school administrators, comes two years after the Denver Public Schools Board of Education passed a resolution to remove all school resource officers from the district, citing concerns that law enforcement contacts with students contributed to the “school-to-prison pipeline.”
Denver Mayor Michael Hancock expressed regret over the decision, and announced following the shooting that two armed police officers will be stationed at East High School until the end of the school year.
“Removing them was a mistake, and we must move swiftly to correct it,” he said. “We’re ready to work with DPS, and we all have to step up as a community and be part of the solution.”
The Denver Public Schools Board of Education voted unanimously in favor of the resolution to remove school resource officers, arguing that incidents resulting in students being introduced into the criminal justice system could have been more effectively addressed by school personnel, restorative practices or other community-based services.
Denver police say the shooting suspect, 17-year-old Austin Lyle, opened fire on the faculty members during a mandated routine search. Lyle had been part of a “safety plan” that required he be searched daily upon entering school premises.
Lyle fled the scene and was later reported to have fatally shot himself. It is unclear what past conduct made the daily search necessary.
Paramedics who were already at the school for a separate incident immediately began to render first aid to the victims. One of the administrators reported to be in stable condition, while the other was left critically wounded.
On March 24, the school announced a mental health leave day for all students.
The incident has since prompted criticism of the school board’s decision, with some arguing that the removal of school resource officers has left students vulnerable.
“I just want you to be able to do your job,” one resident told police officers after the shooting.
According to Hancock, parents are “frustrated” and “angry,” and some are calling for the recall of the school board members.
However, others maintain that the presence of police officers in schools can create a hostile and intimidating environment for students, particularly students of color.
A spokesperson for Denver Public Schools confirmed that a scheduled meeting on March 23 had been canceled in favor of an executive session.
During the executive session, the board temporarily suspended its ban on armed school resource officers or other armed security on campuses, which will remain in effect until June 30.
The board motioned to ensure that school staff are not using armed officers to respond to disciplinary issues.
District superintendent Alex Marrero said he was “committed” to having two armed police officers stationed at the school throughout the remainder of the school year. “I am willing to accept the consequences of my actions,” he said in a letter to the board.