As protests continue, Denver to start conversation about role of police in schools

Denver Public Schools will begin phasing police officers, known as school resource officers, out of its middle and high schools.
(Photo by Melanie Asmar, Chalkbeat Colorado)

Following nationwide protests of racist policing, the Denver school district is expected to begin a conversation about the role of police officers in Denver schools — with some district leaders pushing to remove them entirely.

School board member Tay Anderson tweeted Tuesday evening that board members and Denver Public Schools Superintendent Susana Cordova would gather Friday morning “to announce the future of Denver Public Schools and the Denver Police Department.”

He said in his tweet that he and board Vice President Jennifer Bacon would ask the community to help them draft a resolution that would end the district’s agreement with the city “as it relates to police in schools.” Bacon could not immediately be reached Tuesday evening.

“Our schools will no longer be ground zero for the school to prison pipeline!” Anderson tweeted.

Currently, the school district and the city split the cost of providing 18 police officers to work as “school resource officers” in some of the district’s secondary schools.

It’s not clear yet if this process will result in removing police from schools. Denver Public Schools spokesperson Winna MacLaren confirmed that the superintendent would attend Friday’s announcement. She characterized the announcement as relating to “beginning a conversation with the community about police in schools.”

The move comes more than a week after a white Minneapolis police officer killed George Floyd, an unarmed black man, sparking protests across the country, including in Denver. The officer has been charged with third-degree murder and manslaughter.

On Tuesday, the Minneapolis school board voted unanimously to end Minneapolis Public Schools’ contract with that city’s police department to provide school resource officers. The Advancement Project, a national education-focused civil rights group, is pushing for all school districts to cut ties with police.

At protests in Denver, police have used tear gas and foam bullets on demonstrators. That use of force prompted Anderson, who has helped lead the protests, to renew his call to remove police from schools, he said last week. Denver City Council members have also called for an investigation into police use of force during the protests.

Denver Public Schools was slated to pay $721,403 for the school resource officer program this school year. Community groups have said the district should reallocate that money for hiring more school nurses and counselors, an idea with which Anderson agrees.

Students of color face disproportionately harsh discipline in school. District statistics show black students, who make up 13% of students in Denver, are far more likely than white students to be suspended, expelled, handcuffed, or referred to law enforcement.

Originally posted on Chalkbeat on . Chalkbeat is a nonprofit news site covering educational change in public schools.

Melanie Asmar covers Denver Public Schools. Asmar previously worked as a reporter for Westword newspaper in Denver and for a daily newspaper in her native New Hampshire. She joined Chalkbeat Colorado in 2015.