Just when you thought Denver’s hapless, rudderless and feckless school board had run out of ways to display its ineptitude, it found another. It broke the law.
As reported by The Gazette last week, the Denver Public Schools board made a key policy decision — to return police to Denver schools — during a closed-door session that shut out the press and public. The five-hour-long, marathon meeting was held a day after a March 22 shooting at Denver’s East High School had seriously wounded two school administrators.
“It is a clear-cut violation of the open meetings law,” Steve Zansberg, a First Amendment attorney in Denver and president of the Colorado Freedom of Information Coalition, told The Gazette’s news team.
Of course, it was the board’s own reckless policies — kicking cops off school campuses while keeping high-risk kids in class — that had done so much to undermine school security in the first place. It’s a safe bet board members kept their March 23 attempt at crisis management a members-only affair so the public couldn’t watch them backtrack and eat crow.
It seems saving face — as if this board had anything left to save — trumps obeying the law.
The shooter, an East student already on probation for a prior gun charge, was being frisked for weapons at the time he opened fire. He was found dead later that day in Park County.
In the shooting’s wake, the board was left with no choice but to bring back Denver police as school resource officers after having voted to expel them in 2020.
The decision was welcome and long overdue even if it only came under duress. In fact, it also took a tweet from Mayor Michael Hancock calling the cops’ ouster a “mistake,” and then a unilateral decision by the board’s own superintendent, Alex Marrero, inviting the cops back, before the board could be shamed into agreeing to it officially.
Yet, it turns out even when the DPS board does the right thing — albeit, after a public flogging — it does it the wrong way. “Executive sessions” that exclude the public are allowed only under certain circumstances. They’re not for making policy.
As The Gazette reported, when board members emerged from their March 23 meeting, President Xóchitl Gaytán and other directors read portions of their policy change aloud from a memo drafted in the private session. They then voted on it with no public discussion.
“They clearly adopted a position by agreeing in advance of a full public vote,” Zansberg said. “They’re not allowed to make a decision behind closed doors.”
It’s not just the public DPS keeps in the dark, either. Sometimes, it keeps itself in the dark, too.
The Gazette recently reported that DPS has no idea how many other kids like the East High shooter are attending class despite criminal records. The district doesn’t track them. Really.
But then, this board hasn’t been ready for prime time ever since a teachers union-backed slate of candidates took the majority two elections ago. This board’s preposterous policy decisions are regularly accompanied by tedious posturing and childish infighting. Is it any wonder it now would try to hide its bungling from parents, taxpayers and voters?
As they used to say in show biz, get the hook. It’s past time for this board to leave the stage. Let’s hope some competent candidates step forward in time for next fall’s election.
Now that Denver police are restoring some security to DPS schools, it’s time for some new members to restore credibility to the board.