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DPS board, superintendent roasted for recent actions and inactions

Scores of parents and students blasted the Denver school board and Superintendent Alex Marrero on Monday, demanding DPS do more outreach before making decisions that harm their communities and fast-tracking development of a school safety plan.

Two groups rallied at a Board of Education meeting, one that included mostly Latino parents and students from Southwest Denver and another made up primarily of East High School parents accusing DPS administration of failing to protect students from violence.

“The board is making decisions without us,” Claudia Carrillo said in an interview after her daughter and son testified during a three-hour public comment session about how their education has been harmed. “It’s like they are setting us up to fail,” she said.

Her children attend the Mathematics and Science Leadership Academy (MSLA) and Kepner Beacon Middle School. The board voted last month to close MSLA and two other schools because of low enrollment. Current enrollment at MSLA is 116 students who are predominantly Latino.

Claudia Carrillo with her son Christopher and daughter Ivette. “It’s like they set us up to fail.” (Photo by Chris Broderick)

The board voted earlier this month to revoke the Innovation Zone status for the two Beacon Network middle schools – Kepner and Grant – following Marrero’s recommendation that the schools need more district oversight of its finances, staffing and academics.

Beacon’s Executive Director Alex Magaña, a 23-year DPS veteran who oversees the programs at Kepner and Grant, said in an interview that all the teachers, staff and parents at both schools supported the zone flexibility, which allowed for student-centered decisions at the school level. He said they felt the decision to eliminate the zone was made without consulting the community.

“These families are here tonight because they felt they were not heard and worry about future school closures,” he said, pointing to more than 40 parents and children who gathered at the meeting wearing T-shirts that said, “¡Escúchanos!” (“Hear Us!”)

Anita Bañuelos, director of community organizing for the advocacy group Transform Education Now, said in a prepared statement that DPS “time and time again falls short in demonstrating authentic engagement, especially those in in the Southwest community.

“These decisions, made in a vacuum, reverberate in the community, and the impact can span over generations,” she said.

The other group of parents and students were mainly from East High and schools near East who staged a protest prior to the meeting waving signs along Lincoln Street calling for the entire seven-member board to resign.

They are circulating a petition that has gained 3,500 signatures demanding the resignations because, they contend, the district has failed to ensure student safety.

The petition drive follows two East High shootings last month: student Luis Garcia was shot and killed sitting in his car outside the school, and two administrators were shot and injured by a gun-wielding student during a pat down. After the shootings, the school board reversed its June 2020 decision that terminated its contract with Denver Police and returned 14 armed police school resource officers to 13 high schools.

“Enough is enough,” said Dorian Warren, wearing a “DPS Board resign – it’s time” T-shirt and waving a similar sign to oncoming traffic.

Dorian Warren, East High School parent: “Enough is enough” (Photo by Chris Broderick)

Her son is a junior at East, and she debated whether he should return to school after the shootings. She said the addition of two resource officers helps, but it was too late to help prevent the shootings.

She and others who later testified during the comment period said they don’t expect board members to heed their demands to quit, but they vowed to keep pressure on the board as it heads into the November election, when three of the seven seats will go before Denver voters.

During the meeting, board member Auon’tai Anderson tweeted from the podium: “If you’re going to ask the Board to resign at least make it look like you represent the majority of DPS students. Hint: DPS is 80% BIPOC.”

Many of the parents criticized Marrero for not doing enough outreach districtwide in his plan to devise a safety plan for schools. Board members Anderson and Carrie Olson also urged Marrero to expand his efforts to get more student and community input before finalizing a plan.

Marrero detailed his plan that relies mainly on written surveys going to parent advisory councils, teacher and staff union representatives, a superintendent student advisory group, and consulting with experts in youth violence prevention.

“I believe the plan will be rooted in community input,” he told the board.

Marrero said the timeline is accelerated because it needs to be in place before the school year begins in August, with a preliminary framework completed on May 1 and final recommendations going to the board in late June.

No decisions were made at Monday’s meeting because it was devoted primarily to public comments. The regular monthly meeting, where the board votes on issues, will take place this Thursday.

More information about contacting board members is available here.