Denver school board fretted about blame for removing SROs in closed-door meeting after school shooting, recording reveals

A day after a March school shooting Denver school officials held a closed-door meeting supposedly to discuss security concerns. In fact, much of the discussion was about their own political and…

A day after a March school shooting Denver school officials held a closed-door meeting supposedly to discuss security concerns. In fact, much of the discussion was about their own political and professional futures.

The officials discussed, sometimes in tense tones, how to avoid personal blame for having removed school resource officers, and who would get credit for their return.

The meeting took place on March 23, the day after a student shot two deans at East High School before killing himself.

The school board had voted in 2020 to remove SROs from all district schools. But without asking the board’s approval, Superintendent Alex Marrero announced the day of the shooting he would be reinstating armed police officers. 

A recording of the closed meeting, released only Saturday, reveals board members shared their displeasure with Marrero‘s unilateral decision to reinstate SROs – and board Vice President Auon’tai Anderson expressed concern about being blamed for his prominent role in having removed SROs. 

“The school board is the ones being blamed for this,” Anderson said, according to Chalkbeat. “You’ve made yourself the hero. Everybody is applauding you. … We got the emails thanking you: ‘Go SROs! Go SROs! Thank you for your courage, Superintendent Marrero. But f—k the rest of the seven board members.’ Those are the emails: ‘Resign today.’” 

Earlier this year, Anderson said he was drafting a letter of resignation because he didn’t feel safe. He never resigned, but he’s not running for reelection. 

In the recording, Marrero then admits board members were taking the brunt of the criticism, but adds he’s also getting calls to resign.  

“People are calling for my resignation because I am pro-cop all of a sudden,” Marrero said, according to Chalkbeat. “I have a career beyond this. Fifty percent of the districts won’t see me from here on out.” 

Many board members agreed that the community wanted SROs back, but some members didn’t think that was the right decision. “I think that the community is clamoring for SROs,” board member Carrie Olson said. “And we all know that is not the answer.” 

During the meeting, Marrero told the board members it wasn’t their decision anymore – that then-Mayor Michael Hancock told Marrero he would be issuing an executive order to bring SROs back to schools. Hancock denies ever saying that, according to 9News.  

Following the meeting, a new safety policy was released, and SRO officers are back at district schools. The superintendent and board members are still getting calls to resign.  

The district initially said the closed March 23 meeting addressed security concerns but provided no further information about it. Several news organizations sued the district in April for making policy decisions behind closed doors, and without properly declaring an executive session. A judge ultimately ordered the release of a recording of the meeting. 

The district initially appealed that decision, but on Friday agreed to a redacted release following public pressure. 

“The fact that Denver Public Schools is appealing the judge’s decision is an embarrassment and continues to show that they’re trying to hide the ball,” Steve Katsaros, co-founder of the Parent Safety Advocacy Group, said at the time, according to CBS News. “They need to understand that we, as taxpayers, have rights and we need access to what is ours.” 

In an attempt to save face, the school board voted Friday 7-0 to release a redacted version of the recording, according to Chalkbeat. The redacted version had 20 seconds struck from the record involving a discussion of whether the school board members or Marrero might be held liable for the school shooting. 

Leading up to the clipped footage, the board discussed the Claire Davis Act, which permits victims to sue districts for liability if they fail to ensure the safety of students of faculty.  

DPS attorney Aaron Thompson acknowledged in the meeting there was potential for liability to attach to the district. 

“Yeah, it could,” Thompson said, according to Chalkbeat. “I don’t think we’re there yet based on the incident that happened at East.” Then the recording cuts out.