Editor’s note: This article was written by East High School parents Heather Lamm, Lynne Ly, Dan Foster, and Kirsten Benefiel.
In September of last year Heather Lamm and her husband received the following text from their senior at East High:
Six months later, in mid-March, this same student lined up with the rest of the East soccer team to usher the casket of their teammate, Luis Garcia, into a hearse for burial.
And six days after that, students and staff once again locked themselves in classrooms, the auditorium, and the gym under the chilling and all-to-familiar lock down protocol after shots were fired in the East atrium just after 9 a.m.
The breakdown in our culture, our systems, and our community that have led to this tragic year for Denver students are complex, numerous, and devastatingly stubborn.
But one thing is clear: the current Denver Public Schools Board of Education has failed in its oversight responsibilities and has demonstrated an inability to lead and manage effectively. We are among a group of DPS parents that has banded together and launched a petition drive to demand that all seven members resign immediately.
More than 1,600 people have signed our petition.
With new leadership in place, we can begin to craft workable solutions. Those solutions also undoubtedly will be numerous and complex.
Multiple failures led to last week’s tragedy, among them a failure of this nation to implement meaningful, nationwide gun control and a breakdown in the mental health supports that should be readily available to all kids.
But we think that most Denver residents will agree with the following straightforward premises:
- Austin Lyle should not have been at East High or any other general population high school given his history with weapons violations, nor should any student on a so-called safety plan with a history of violence including guns, sexual assault, etc.
- The East High deans should not have been responsible for patting him down on that day or any other day, nor should ANY teacher at ANY DPS school.
No school, be it East High or your local elementary school, should be forced by the district to accept students with previous weapons violations. There are other options for those students.
East High School isn’t the only one suffering in DPS. McAuliffe International School Principal Kurt Dennis shared the issues the McAuliffe middle school community is facing last week and many more stories are being shared about other schools as well.
Kimberly Grayson, former leader at MLK Early College has shared numerous tragic incidents involving students with weapons and specific recommendations that were ignored by the district. The fact that the district can’t enumerate the number of students on safety plans by school shows there is no accountability tied to policies being created. Surviving isn’t thriving.
We need to listen to the teachers and staff in our schools when they tell us they simply can’t keep up with what is being asked of them.
Underlying it all, we need leadership. Genuine leadership – not finger-pointing excuses, self-serving press conferences, or muddled and ambiguous promises of future policies.
Some of the blame lies with Superintendent Alex Marrero and his leadership team. But the buck stops with the elected school board.
In times of crisis and a lack of public confidence, responsible civic leaders have an obligation to consider what is best for the people they serve – and sometimes that means stepping aside and making room for entirely new leadership. This board has embroiled itself in conflict and dysfunction for over two years, and it is time for a clean sweep.
Anyone who questions why change is needed now need only review the litany of missteps and unforced errors this board has committed since taking office in December 2021. Specifically, the board has:
- Failed to develop a robust safety plan after removing School Resource Officers more than two years ago
- Failed to be transparent with teachers, administrators or parents about potentially dangerous students in schools
- Failed to manage the DPS budget
- Failed to manage the one employee for whom they are responsible — the superintendent
- Flip-flopped on school closures
- Had one member hold press conferences and speak on behalf of the board without authority, violating their own rules as a board
- Had to end a public meeting early after failing to restore order when one members’ own family member started shouting at supporters of another board member.
There will be impassioned debate, and much will be asked of students, staff, and parents in coming weeks as we try to find a way to keep our schools safe. All of us in the district will be asked to make difficult decisions and tradeoffs.
It is time for the board to lead by example.This is not about any one issue or any one board member. This is not about any particular political ideology. This is about a board that has become so dysfunctional it is unable to lead us forward.
It is time for a change.