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Some DPS teachers feel student crimes are "swept under the rug," due to relaxed discipline policies

CBS Colorado 3/28/2023 Kati Weis

Denver Public Schools is in upheaval after tragic shootings in and around East High School over the last two months. But it's those high-profile incidents that are now unraveling new information about many more incidents at other schools in the district, and policy changes the district has made in recent years — changes some staff say are to blame for a spike in student crime. 

Teachers and faculty members at other public schools in Denver told CBS News Colorado they're worried about policy changes to the district's discipline standards, which they say are allowing dangerous kids to continue returning to school, even after multiple strikes or committing egregious crimes.

At Bruce Randolph School just a couple weeks ago, teachers told CBS News Colorado a student admitted to bringing a gun on campus, but because the gun was later found in a teacher's possession and not physically on the student, the district denied requests from staff to expel the student, or at the very least give him an extended suspension. 

Last week, CBS News Colorado reported, despite recent shootings at East High School, the number of crimes reported to police at the school — and across the district — have dropped significantly in the last few years.

At East, 46 criminal incidents were reported to police in 2018. In 2022, eight crimes were reported to police.

State data also shows, districtwide, student referrals to police have dropped by nearly 80%. 

DPS Superintendent Alex Marrero dismissed criticisms that those numbers aren't indicative of reality.

"It's intentional by design," Marrero said in a press conference on Thursday, responding to CBS News Colorado questions regarding the drop in crime reports. 

On Monday, faculty and staff from other schools — who agreed to speak with CBS News Colorado without providing names on the record for fear of job retaliation — are providing more insight into why the crime numbers may have dropped so low. They say the district's discipline policy changes in the fall of 2020 have limited schools' abilities to contact police and expel students when students commit crimes on campus. These limitations were in attempts to, "... end the school-to-prison pipeline," district discipline documents show. 

For example, in 2017, the discipline matrix for DPS shows any student who committed a robbery, first or second degree assault, sexual assault, distribution of illegal drugs or brought a dangerous weapon to school was automatically recommended for expulsion and was required to be referred to police. 

But now, if a student commits any of those crimes, documents show school staff can only conduct an expulsion review, and there's more room for school staff to not involve police.

In 2017, students who assaulted an employee or possessed explosives would be required to be referred to police, but now, the security department can decide whether or not to call police.

The policies changed after studies in 2018 from the University of Denver and Denver Public Schools staff found restorative interventions were more effective than suspending or expelling students.

But some teachers in the district told CBS News Colorado they don't think the restorative approach made much of a difference. That instead, the relaxed policies have led to a culture of students believing there are minimal consequences for criminal actions. They also feel the policies have allowed the district to keep student crime numbers, "swept under the rug," by not being required to report crimes to police as often.   

Furthermore, while the district has created more mental health resources for students, teachers say, when kids commit crimes, they can't be forced to go to therapy, and often are not taking advantage of the mental health resources available. 

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