Alex Marrero

DPS Superintendent Alex Marrero chats with Board of Education Director Scott Esserman and Board Vice President Auon'tai M. Anderson before the budget meeting on May 4, 2023.

In the hours after an East High School shooting wounded two administrators, Denver Public Schools (DPS) Superintendent Alex Marrero requested a secret meeting with the board of education to discuss changing the district’s policy on campus police, The Denver Gazette has learned.

The stated purposed of the executive session — which is closed to the public — was to discuss individual students and security arrangements, in the aftermath of the March 22 shooting.

But the board emerged on March 23, five hours and 13 minutes later with a typed-up policy change ready to distribute to the media.

The board then — without any discussion — voted unanimously on temporarily return police officers, or school resource officers (SRO), to campus.

This was an about face from 2020 when the board — in the wake of national police protests and concerns over the school-to-prison pipeline — voted to cut ties with the Denver Police Department and remove SROs.

Steve Zansberg, a First Amendment attorney in Denver and president of the Colorado Freedom of Information Coalition, has called the executive session “a clear-cut violation of the open meetings law.”

Zansberg is representing The Denver Gazette and five other local media organizations in a lawsuit that seeks the recording and meeting minutes from the executive session.

Colorado Sunshine Law requires state and local governments discuss and take action in public meetings.

A public body may go into executive session to purchase property, consult with an attorney for legal advice and for confidential matters such as personnel matters or discussions about an individual student, among other things.

There is no carve out, though, in the law for discussing policy changes in executive session.

Zansberg has called the action a rubber stamp vote, saying the board “is not allowed to make a decision behind closed doors.”

DPS officials declined to comment.

The Denver Gazette requested a copy of the executive session recording that Stacy Wheeler, the district’s CORA officer, denied saying the records were not subject to disclosure.

Less than four hours after the shooting, Marrero told the board in an email obtained through a Colorado Open Records Act request that he was “committed to having two armed police officers” stationed at East for the remainder of the school year.

“I acknowledge this action likely violates Executive Limitations 10.10, which mandates that I ‘not staff district schools with school resource officers or the consistent presence of security armed with guns or any other law enforcement personnel,’” Marrero wrote the board on March 22.

Marrero added, “I do not believe I can execute the Board’s desires as expressed in Ends 4 while EL10.10 and the SRO Resolution remain in place. I request that we have a conversation tomorrow in an Executive Session with select staff members being included.”

Policy Ends 4 states gun violence poses a threat to school safety and that the “district will collaborate with local law enforcement.”

If a state public body — in this case the DPS board — violates the provisions of Colorado’s Open Meeting Law, “the resolution, rule, regulation, ordinance, or a formal action of a state public body is invalid,” according to the Office of Legislative Legal Services.

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