NewsCovering Colorado


Wider public records request shows 40 DPS students on pat-down protocol at time of East HS shooting

Denver East High School
Posted at 8:34 AM, May 03, 2023

DENVER — 40 Denver Public Schools students were under a pat-down safety policy the same day as a shooting inside East High School, and these numbers are not required to be reported to the district.

"I think there's a lake of forthrightness on behalf of the board and the superintendent. I don't think they've been transparent about this issue at all," said Alex Ooms, a parent who sent in records requests asking the same questions about pat-down numbers.

"I have three kids in the Denver Public School system, and one of them is a senior at East. And he's had a tough year. And a lot of those kids and teachers have had a tough year," said Ooms. "I started asking for numbers because the district said they didn't have the numbers."

Our partners at Denver7 submitted record requests to DPS, but were denied because of the inclusion of the words "district-wide." After re-formulating the request to only ask for numbers reported within each school, Denver7 Investigates received the data.

The first round of records Denver7 Investigates received showed just a portion of the pat downs happening on March 22. A wider request for more schools that day shows at least 40 students across the district were pat down the same week a 17-year-old student shot two deans on March 22 at East High School. The student was part of a safety policy requiring administrators to conduct a daily check for weapons.

"I think it's something parents have a right to know," said Ooms. "I love my kids, and I send them to school and I have no idea what's actually happening in that school. That was the realization of this exercise for me."

Four DPS middle schools had at least one student on a pat-down safety plan — Lake, McAuliffe Manual, McAuliffe International and Kepner Beacon middle schools. North, Lincoln, John F. Kennedy, East, Thomas Jefferson, Manual, and Bruce Randolph high schools all reported students receiving pat-downs.

Of the records received, the schools with the highest number of students being checked for weapons were:

  • North High School (12)
  • Lincoln High School (6)
  • John F. Kennedy High School (6)
  • Thomas Jefferson High School (4)
  • Kepner Beacon Middle School (4)

Each of those schools reported numbers higher than East High School on the day of the shooting.
Ooms said the district's lack of awareness about the number of students undergoing daily pat-downs is cause for concern.

"I think they should be pretty concerned, and I don't think they are," said Ooms. "I don't think they have the trust of staff anymore and of families and students."

Caleb Fiala, a spokesperson for East High School's Students Demand Action group, said this is not about numbers.

"I think it's important to focus on proper gun policy and regulating guns as opposed to regulating students," said Fiala. "I don't think that the numbers really matter that much."

Denver7 Investigates asked Ooms if the numbers are a wake-up call for the district.

"I think we're late for that," he replied. "I mean, I think the wake-up call was when Luis Garcia was shot on, you know, February 13. Then [the 17-year-old student] shot the two teens at East on March 22 — that's barely a month later."

DPS released the first draft of its safety plan on Monday, May 1, which addresses school resource officers (SROs) and weapons detection technology.

Ooms feels the district finishing its safety plan on June 30 when school is out for the summer misses the mark.

"I don't know how as a teacher, as an educator, you can work in an environment where you can be thinking every day about whether or not somebody who made a threat is walking in the halls next to your kid or is in your classroom sitting there," said Ooms.

While the numbers may not matter to Fiala, safety at his school still does.

"I love East. It's a wonderful school, a great community," said Fiala. "I just want to feel safer in my school than I am right now."

DPS Superintendent Alex Marrero declined to interview, but a district spokesperson provided a statement:

"Denver Public Schools is not required to track the numbers of students who are required to receive “pat-downs” as part of the students’ Action and Intervention Plans. This philosophy is not new. This long-standing approach has been safely implemented extensively throughout Denver Public Schools for several decades.

Our school leaders follow district policy JIH, which outlines how school officials may conduct searches of a student’s person or personal effects. District guidance to school officials is that, if there is a concern that a student may have a weapon, a DPS Campus Safety Officer (CSO) or Patrol Officer should be involved in the search. This applies unless an Action and Intervention Plan lists other individuals as responsible for the search."

Denver7 also reached out to Denver School Board President Xochitl Gaytan, who provided this comment:

"Denver Public Schools is currently in the process of creating a comprehensive safety plan. The first draft of the plan was released on May 1st and the district is currently looking for feedback from parents, guardians, students, and community members on ways we can improve this draft. Once the plan is finalized, the Superintendent will present a final recommendation to the Board of Education in June. To make your voice heard, please visit []."