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Fortress DPS spurns help offer from former Denver Manager of Safety

Editor’s note: This piece is excerpted from a letter written by Fidel “Butch” Montoya, former Denver Manager of Safety, to a reporter at The Denver Gazette. It is published with Montoya’s permission. Boardhawk has edited it for length and clarity.

Montoya served as manager of safety from 1994-2000 in the Wellington Webb mayoral administration. Today, he is a pastor and executive director of the Latino Faith Initiative, “sharing my experience and expertise to assist faith leaders confront/resolve issues and problems in a rapidly changing society.” 

As former safety manager for seven years, deputy mayor for four years, past member of the  Denver Public Schools School Disciplinary Committee and North High School governing board,  I have written to both DPS board President Xóchitl Gaytán and Superintendent Alex Marrero with safety advice and offers to assist. 

The seven years I served as manager was like earning a degree in management, policing, safety, and politics. I believe I have something to offer.

I have received no response. This Board of Education, board president, and superintendent are not making this most important issue of safety a priority. I want to help and have as much experience as anyone in the City and County of Denver.

Fidel “Butch” Montoya

There is a growing movement to change this board. I initially opposed such a dramatic move, but it is becoming clear that the board and superintendent do not have the leadership skills to lead DPS during one of the dangerous and critical periods in its history.

If key DPS players are too busy with political matters, and continue doing nothing as the days pass, they are setting the stage for another tragic incident. Since the recent shootings, nothing has really changed to make our schools safer.

Are the present policies in place the best practice for school safety? What new policies should be looked at?

Public safety is not just an East High School issue or problem. This is a citywide dilemma and while I applaud the citizen’s group that wants to have input to a safety plan, so do other, less vocal groups in the city.

Latino faith leaders stand by ready to serve. Some 52 percent of the students in DPS are Latino or Spanish-speaking students. We are very concerned about school safety. It is our children, grandchildren, families and friends attending DPS schools. As a citywide community, we also want to participate in these discussions.

We are deeply concerned about safe schools. But trying to work through the system, offering to volunteer our expertise and experience and being ignored by district officials is very disheartening.

So is the slow pace of action on this issue. I don’t care if the safety plan deadline is June 30. If I were Superintendent Marrero, the very next day after being ordered to develop a plan, I would have started assembling a community safety group, and started giving regular, public  updates on process and progress.

Ignoring citizens who can add to this important debate is not the way to be DIVERSE, INCLUSIVE, & EQUITABLE!

If, as district leaders insist, many of the “federal student protections” prohibit making necessary changes with students who have  demonstrated by their own unlawful actions they do not belong in a “regular school environment,” then why is Congresswoman Diana DeGette not involved in these conversations? We need to find a way to stop using these federal protections as reasons we can’t do anything.

Ultimately, developing a meaningful safety plan means more than meeting with ‘experts’ and constituents of DPS. This process calls for an in-depth review of every school safety practice, all school safety policies, as well as transfer and student exchange policies between school districts.

What major role does the Denver Police Department play in this discussion? Any plan will likely have an impact on DPD resource and budget issues. Any plan will involve specialized training revisions and needs. 

I am not sold on “trained school staff” conducting pat-downs. As we have discovered, it is one of the most dangerous responsibilities a police officer has. Now, because someone took a seminar training session, they are qualified to do student pat-downs?

In Denver, we have experienced dangerous pat-downs by deputy sheriffs and police officers in sally ports, one of the most secure areas in a jail. Now we allow “trained staff” to conduct pat-downs in out-of-the-way rooms inside schools?

Time is passing and progress appears to be slow. Do Marrero and the board not understand the magnitude of the challenge involved in getting this plan on the road? It cannot be done in a few public community meetings and internal safety group discussions.

There are a great many issues that must be reviewed and evaluated. There needs to be a plan for training at school facilities, administrator training, and soliciting and seeking student input.

If Marrero and the board believe they can put a plan together in a couple of weeks, that simply demonstrates their weak vision and lack of understanding of the job that needs to get done.

I agree with Bishop Vernon Jones Jr.that if other issues are more important than attending to a safety plan, something is wrong.