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Shooting at Denver High School Focuses Attention on School Safety Plans


The shooting deaths of two administrators at a Denver high school on Wednesday focused attention on student safety plans, which are often used by schools across the country as a way to monitor troubled students and prevent violence.

a day later East High School shootingDenver school officials voted to return armed police officers to the city’s high schools for the rest of the school year, nearly three years after they were removed.

Student Austin Lyle, 17, died of a self-inflicted gunshot wound a few hours after the shooting, as required by the safety plan to be searched before entering school each day, police said. said.

It’s not clear what specifically prompted planning officials, but Denver Public Schools Superintendent Alex Marrero said administrators at the high school were aware that Lyle had a criminal history.

Lyle was placed on probation after officers in Aurora, Colo., found a “ghost rifle” with a high-capacity magazine at his home in 2021, according to a hidden law enforcement official. name to share details about a juvenile case.

A spokesman for the Cherry Creek School District said Lyle was “removed” from Overland High School in Aurora for disciplinary issues during the 2021-22 school year. She declined to elaborate.

On Wednesday, two administrators at East High School, identified by the district as Eric Sinclair, dean of cultural affairs, and Jerald Mason, coordinator in rehabilitation practice, were assaulting Mr. Lyle in the office when they A gun was found, police said.

Police said Lyle fired multiple shots, injuring both people. By Thursday, Mr. Mason was discharged from the hospital. Mr Sinclair remains hospitalized in serious condition.

Lyle’s body was found Wednesday night near his car in Park County, about a two-hour drive southwest of Denver. He died of a self-inflicted gunshot wound, the county coroner’s office said Thursday, citing preliminary autopsy results.

“I believe there has been a social failure,” Xochitl Gaytan, president of the Denver Public Schools Board of Education, said at a news conference Thursday afternoon. “For us, it is not okay for a student’s death to happen. It’s not fine. And it really weighs on each of us.”

Mr. Marrero said at the news conference that although the shooting was unexplained and unforeseen, “there is a general administrator who usually communicates with students upon arrival. That administrator is not available.

Mr. Marrero said in the absence of that manager, Mr. Mason and Mr. Sinclair brought down Mr. Lyle. “Perhaps that prompted it,” Mr. Marrero said. “It’s hard to speculate, but that’s what we’ve learned.”

Denver Police Department Chief Ron Thomas said Wednesday that Lyle had previously been searched “and had never had a weapon on him before.”

Michael Dorn, chief executive officer of Safe Havens International, a nonprofit that seeks to increase school safety, said safety plans like the one offered to Mr Lyle were “very common” in schools nationwide.

They are often used to reintegrate students, he said, after they have been expelled for carrying a gun, fighting or being arrested for a serious crime. They can also be used to help students who threaten to harm themselves or others, he said.

Plans may require students to be pacified or registered with school police or see the school’s mental health counselor, Dorn said.

“I feel it’s a valid technique,” he said. “In my experience, I have seen hundreds of students able to continue their studies without harming themselves or anyone else thanks to this kind of mindset.”

But Dorn, a former school police chief in Bibb County, Ga., said he doesn’t believe it’s safe to ask unarmed administrators to search students. That should only be done by armed school security officers, he said.

In 2020, the Denver Public Schools voted to remove school resource officers from its schools and terminate contracts with the Police Department over concerns that the officers were taking students, especially particularly white students, into the criminal justice system, according to the district’s writing. website.

The Denver Board of Education voted on Thursday to place at least two armed police officers as well as at least two additional mental health counselors at each high school for the remainder of the school year.

Even so, Mr. Marrero said that armed police officers would not hit students unless they had a good reason. It is the norm for educators to conduct such searches, he said.

Student safety plans have been scrutinized in the past.

school staff in Parkland, Fla.for example, drafted a safety plan banning students from bringing backpacks to school before he fatally shot 17 people at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School in 2018. The student, who threatened himself and others other, was also banned from practicing his shooting skills with Junior ROTC at the school he attended.

Some school safety experts have questioned whether the Denver school district would provide Lyle with mental health counseling and other services, in addition to the searches required by the plan. your safety or not.

“The bigger question is, what else did they do for this student?” Odis Johnson Jr., professor of social policy at Johns Hopkins University and executive director of the Johns Hopkins Center for Safe and Healthy Schools. “There must be something else going on if they are going to comfort them every day. It can’t be just patting.”

Janet Robinson, superintendent of schools in Newtown, Conn., when a gunman killed 20 first-graders and six teachers at Sandy Hook Elementary School in 2012, says teachers and administrators need to set up relationships with students under search and other inquiries.

“It’s not just about checking if the person has a weapon,” Ms Robinson said. “What opportunities are there to talk to the child: ‘Hey, what’s up today?’ I think that relationship, no matter how difficult it is for these kids, is going to make or break it.”

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