Police officers monitor the East High School campus in Denver on Wednesday, April 5, 2023. Officers were reinstated in April after a shooting at the school. The district’s board had voted to remove them from campus in 2020. (Photo by Hyoung Chang/The Denver Post)
Denver Public Schools has lacked a safety chief for six months as the district grapples with rising youth gun violence and a shooting inside its largest high school.
The district attributed a delay in filling the position to several factors, including media coverage of the school board, whose infighting has been widely reported, and a desire to find a candidate who understands both safety and students’ social and emotional needs, according to a district document obtained by Chalkbeat.
The former chief of the DPS climate and safety department, Mike Eaton, left the district in November after more than a decade. The department has other vacancies as well. The interim safety chief, Robert Grossaint, is out on medical leave, according to a district spokesperson. And one of two deputy chiefs, Melissa Craven, left DPS last month.
The short staffing comes at a time when students, parents, and educators are particularly worried about school safety. Three shootings in and around East High School this school year have heightened those concerns, leading to student protests, the formation of a parent advocacy group, calls for the school board to resign, the reintroduction of school police officers, and the hastened development of a long-term safety plan for the entire district.
Two East High students died in shootings this year. Sixteen-year-old Luis Garcia was killed while sitting in his car outside the school in February, a crime that remains unsolved. And Austin Lyle, 17, took his own life in March after shooting and wounding two East High deans.
But Trena Marsal, the district’s chief of operations, said in an interview that despite the vacancies in the DPS safety department, Denver’s public schools are safe. Other staff members have been stepping in to fill the empty roles, she said.
“I want to make sure people understand that our buildings are safe,” Marsal said. “We have highly trained experts in the field of safety that are in place and continue to be in place.”
Read the full story from our partners at Chalkbeat Colorado.
Chalkbeat is a nonprofit news site covering educational change in public schools.
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