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What happened to safety in DPS?

Editor’s note: Paul Ballenger is a DPS parent, a security industry executive, a civil affairs officer in the US Army Reserve and a current candidate for DPS board of education director at largeBoardhawk has offered to publish three commentaries from each at-large school board candidate through mid-October. This is Ballenger’s second. You can read his first piece here. 

It’s been almost five months since the shooting inside East High School, where two deans were wounded, and the shooter later that evening tragically ended his own life. This event galvanized a community and put Denver Public Schools in hot water when the press, Denver taxpayers, parents, and the greater Denver metro community realized the district’s safety policies and “strategy” were deeply flawed.

Educators and students already knew this as they have dealt with these shortcomings daily — my own family included. District leaders said they were taking it seriously and changes were coming. As a Dad, a security professional, a taxpayer, and now a school board candidate, I was eager to see what changes would come. Through tragedy, especially one due to poor leadership, comes opportunity.

Five months later, I’m still waiting eagerly. After all, safety and security are and always will be crucial to education. Time is of the essence.

Since the shootings, our board directed the superintendent to create a safety plan, and the final product was released publicly on June 30th. As someone who has spent much of their adult life in leadership positions, I see the plan leaves much to be desired.

Paul Ballenger, an at-large candidate for Denver school board.

For a district seemingly obsessed with power and control at the higher echelons, it’s rather vague. There are no timelines for implementation or completion, no specific tasks to key leaders, no cadence of progress updates, no rollout timeline, no KPIs, no specifics on budgeting, and much of the language directs decision-making to principals.

I’ve mentioned these concerns multiple times publicly since June 30th, so as we enter the school year in a few days, it should be clear that everything has stayed the same. On June 30th, a team of leaders from DPS went to Harvard to work on a new discipline matrix. So far the public has not seen any deliverable from their expensive trip, let alone any tangible results have been achieved.

We saw a whistleblowing principal get terminated, and his interim replacement suspended. The outgoing principal at Northfield was then pulled at the last minute to fill in at McAuliffe International. We have seen incendiary press conferences, divisive rhetoric, and accusations from current board members and families and educators, all waiting for something positive and productive to come from the district regarding school safety.

I have spoken with many teachers and administrators in the past few months. The way some students have treated them over the past few years is alarming. Violence is unacceptable, bullying is unacceptable, allowing drugs in schools is unacceptable, and perpetuating practices that allow guns in schools is completely unacceptable.

When parents vocalize their legitimate concerns for their children’s safety, they are hampered by toxic politics, ideology, and fruitless rhetoric. In March, we demanded change and adequate security for our schools.

It’s August 2023, and we are still asking for the same thing.