DENVER — The new safety chief for Denver Public Schools starts on Monday.
Greg Cazzell, who was announced as DPS’ new chief of climate and safety last month, recently sat down with Denver7 to talk about his priorities, including whether administrators should pat down students.
Cazzell says keeping students and staff safe in any school district has become more challenging.
“It’s definitely gotten worse,” said Cazzell. “Safety and security does not stop at 5 p.m. It is a 24-hour-a-day job.”
It’s a job he’s well familiar with.
Before coming to DPS, Cazzell spent nearly a decade as safety director for Aurora Public Schools and spent 22 years with Glendale Police.
He’ll use that experience to help the district deal with growing concerns from students, parents, and others about violence.
“Schools are part of the community, so some of that violence that we're seeing is spilling over into our schools,” said Cazzell.
In February, a 16-year-old student was shot just feet away from Denver’s East High School and died a couple of weeks later.
In March, a student shot two administrators at East while they were conducting a pat down of the student.
Last week, the district fired the longtime principal of McAuliffe International School, Kurt Dennis, after he came forward to share safety concerns about his staff having to perform daily pat-downs of students.
Dennis’ attorney, David Lane, says he was fired in retaliation for speaking out and said a federal lawsuit would be filed against DPS in the coming days.
“Mr. Dennis was fired in retaliation for his First Amendment-protected free speech,” Lane said in a statement to Denver7. “He divulged no confidential information to anyone and DPS is using it as a pretext for their blatant retaliation for his having talked to the media about very real safety concerns at his school, and throughout DPS.”
The district says Dennis’ firing “had little to do” with media interviews.
Scott Pribble, the director of external communications for DPS, sent the following statement to Denver7:
“Denver Public Schools is prohibited from sharing information related to confidential personnel matters. That being said, the district does not take these actions lightly. After review, the district recognized that there were some leadership concerns at McAuliffe International. The termination had little to do with any media interviews, but rather the sharing of confidential student information in violation of state and federal laws. The issues were thoroughly investigated and addressed accordingly. We hope the community understands the limitations imposed on us. With these limitations in mind, the district reserves the right to correct any misinformation related to this matter. We look forward to working with the school community to find a qualified replacement to continue to ensure that the students and educators at McAuliffe International thrive.”
Cazzell, who spoke with Denver7 a few weeks before Dennis’ firing, said administrators and teachers doing daily pat downs is “not ideal.”
“It’s a challenge. Ask a teacher, you know, if they wanted to be a first responder, they would have been a police officer or a fireman. They want to be a teacher for a reason,” said Cazzell. “It’s not ideal, but we need to make sure the staff is trained on what to do, what actions to take, and how to ensure not only that that student is supported, but the school as a whole is taking precautions.”
A Denver7 investigation found 40 DPS students were under a pat-down safety policy at the time of the East High shooting in March.
Cazzell says his priorities will include helping students access mental health resources, which he says is one of the most important aspects of keeping schools safe.
He’ll also help the district implement a new long-term safety plan.
The final draft was released on June 30 and must still be approved by the board.