The recent events of gun violence at East High School, as well as the over 300 gun-related incidents at K-12 schools this year in Colorado, have left many of us grieving, frightened and incredibly concerned. Our hearts are with the victims of the recent shooting at East and all East students, families and staff as they process these traumatic events. We are grateful for the prognosis of both administrators, Dean of Culture Eric Sinclair and Restorative Practices Coordinator Jerald Mason. At The Conflict Center we know that the students and family at East, and across the district, are demanding action and all students and staff deserve to feel safe at school. The Conflict Center honors these reactions and joins the call to address this violence, calling on school and local officials to ensure that our immediate reactions do not fall prey to the illusion of security without addressing root causes.
While we understand the impetus, we have concerns that the March 23 memorandum, released by Superintendent Marrero and the DPS School Board, placing armed guards back in all high schools for the rest of the year is a reactionary step and one that does not give the feeling of safety for all students and families. The Conflict Center is heartened that this step also includes the addition of mental health supports in schools and that the use of armed guards comes with specific instructions to provide monthly “disaggregated data concerning on-campus ticketing and arrests to ensure armed officers are only there for safety purposes.”
The next steps the Denver Public Schools Administration takes are incredibly important. It is essential that any dialogue and action regarding safety in schools and youth violence center the involvement and voices of students. The Conflict Center supports the district in creating plans that look at root causes and are research-informed regarding what measures actually work to address violence in schools while also taking into account all impacts on all students, regardless of intent. While research does not show that the presence of SROs in schools has any impact on school shootings, there is substantial evidence that the presence of officers results in higher rates of punitive discipline, including suspensions and in-school arrests. The overuse of such sanctions has created a school-to-prison pipeline which disproportionately impacts students of color and other marginalized groups, further exacerbating the structural disadvantages already faced in our society.
Further, The Conflict Center understands that the presence of guns in schools can create psychological distress for students and staff, even in the hands of armed police. We recognize that the increased presence of guns in the community can also create heightened anxiety for youth, in addition to increased likelihood for physical harm. Therefore, we support community-centered violence reduction approaches that reduce root causes and address youth’s foundational needs. We urge all members of the community to work together towards long-term solutions that prioritize mental health supports, restorative practices, and addressing root causes of violence.