When the 2021-2022 school year begins in August, there will be no Denver police officers in Denver schools. The district is in the process of removing all remaining school resource officers from campuses. The move was decided almost a year ago amid concerns that having police in schools funnels more students of color into the criminal justice system.
One former Denver Public Schools teacher, Martha Montijo, said she believes removing SROs is a mistake. Montijo spent nearly 30 years in the district, but her final years at Lincoln High School were overshadowed by an incident involving a student who threatened her life.
“According to the administration, there was about 20 messages, how he detailed killing me and that he was going to do it in the school,” Montijo said.
Montijo said school resource officer Richard Blea would check on her frequently and parked next to her vehicle. The student was removed from her classroom, but a few years after she retired, she learned of a tragic development.
“I was in South America and one of my students called me and said that this student Kevin had killed his girlfriend and killed himself, and he had a list of people he wanted to kill and I was on the list,” Montijo said.
According to a 2018 report by the Denver Post, Kevin Torres killed his 37-year-old girlfriend then himself.
While Montijo said she believes police officers help keep school safer, DPS is looking to improve safety through other means. In a recent community meeting, DPS said it’s planning to have around 80 unarmed campus safety officers in schools next year. The district has also increased the number of psychologists and counselors working in schools.
The district released the following statement from DPS Department of Safety Chief Michael Eaton:
“Denver Public Schools has made a commitment moving forward to use different methods as it relates to discipline in our schools. We will work to ensure school safety without the presence of on-campus police officers by providing social-emotional resources, implementing restorative practices, and supporting student needs for both personal growth and accountability. Many of these practices are already in place as Denver Public Schools has successfully prioritized student safety in all schools, the majority of which have always operated without a dedicated SRO on site.
“Our schools need to be a safe space for all students, and we are thinking about safety more holistically. The physical, emotional, and psychological wellbeing are all critical to a student’s ability to learn, belong, and thrive. Use of mental health supports and restorative practices as a disciplinary intervention has not been seen to have negative impacts on student academic performance or their perception of school climate and culture.
“Moving toward a better future for all students, and in particular BIPOC students, the district will also provide professional development for building leaders and staff on topics such as discipline best practice, trauma informed practices, restorative practices, supporting students in crisis, de-escalation strategies, suicide prevention and threat appraisal. Going forward, the DPS Department of Safety will collaborate with educators at these campuses and will continue to respond to safety concerns as they arise. Denver Police remain a vital partner in our school emergency plans and will continue to support us when needed. We will also collaborate with DPD on identifying opportunities in building positive relationships between law enforcement and youth as we continue to drive student success in DPS."