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Private Denver Public Schools report outlines safety concerns within high schools

For months, Denver Public Schools has kept private the findings of an investigation tasked with documenting internal concerns within the district.

DENVER — While the Denver Public Schools’ superintendent continues to suggest safety concerns within his district remain overblown, a yet-to-be-publicly-released report done on behalf of the district outlines a different story.

The report, which relies heavily on 150 hours of interviews with DPS high school “safety teams,” highlights numerous and specific worries raised in the months that followed the shooting of two deans inside East High School in March.

DPS has so far refused to release the PrincipalEd Consulting report, citing “attorney-client privilege” in open-record-request denials, but this week 9NEWS obtained a draft of the report.

The draft doesn’t contain any of the recommendations made in the final report, but it does include many of the specific concerns raised by those interviewed by PrincipalEd. PrincipalEd is run by John Youngquist, a former principal at East High and current candidate for an at-large seat on the DPS Board of Education.

Youngquist declined comment for this story.

Youngquist conducted interviews with high school staffers and leaders in the weeks that followed the shootings of East High Deans Wayne Mason and Eric Sinclair. Both were trying to conduct a weapons pat down of a 17-year-old student when the student shot them.

Days later, McAuliffe International School’s Principal Kurt Dennis told 9NEWS the district was forcing him and his staff to conduct similar pat downs on a middle school student charged with attempted murder.  

Last month, DPS Superintendent Dr. Alex Marrero told 9NEWS reporter Chris Vanderveen that 9NEWS’ reporting on concerns raised by DPS staff were exaggerated. “We have over 200 schools. You’re hearing from a couple. Let’s put it in perspective, Chris,” Marrero said.

“When it comes to my conversations with our educators and even the heads of unions, I need you to know, Chris, that is not the top priority,” he added.

But the PrincipalEd report, which involved interviews with staff at almost all of the city’s high schools, suggests the district might have a larger problem than district leaders are prepared to publicly acknowledge.

In one instance, a staffer told PrincipalEd, “It is harder to return to play sports after a concussion than to return to a classroom after a threat of a weapon, violence, or a significant mental health episode.”

The draft report appears to contain numerous anecdotal concerns, but taken as a whole, it paints a picture of more widespread worries.

The following examples were extracted from the draft report:

  • “Students understand that we are not able to be responsive to violent behaviors and that suspensions and expulsions will not happen.”
  • “Requests for expulsion for weapons are consistently denied.”
  • “There has been an increase in significant/violent fighting incidents because students do not believe that there will be behavioral responses that are concerning to them.”
  • “Safety plans have become a replacement for expulsion, denial of admission, and effective problem-solving with families.”
  • “Deans and school administrators are not provided with training, support, or consult with our most difficult behavior situations – school sites are effectively told to ‘deal with it” and ‘figure out a way.””
  • “It feels like the message is ‘deal with it.’”

Read the full draft report below: 

 Denver Public Schools issued a statement to 9NEWS on Friday. It read:

The PrincipalEd assessment has not been shared publicly before, as it was covered by attorney-client privilege. The sole purpose of this assessment was to seek out the safety concerns of our school community in conjunction with the development of our comprehensive safety plan. The interviews contained in this report were conducted in this past April and May in the immediate aftermath of the tragedy at East High School.

Since the release of the comprehensive safety plan this past June, Denver Public Schools has made several key advancements in security, including:

The return of School Resource Officers to 13 DPS high schools

We are in the process of completing a comprehensive building safety assessment at all DPS schools

Began a systematic review of our discipline matrix in partnership with Harvard University

Dedicated $82 million of our budget to address the mental health needs of our students and staff.

DPS is committed to getting better at getting better. If any of our students or staff members feel unsafe, we urge them to contact the DPS Department of Climate and Safety so that we can address their concerns.

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