The Denver Classroom Teachers Association (DCTA) is a democratically run organization that represents almost 4,000 DPS educators, including teachers, counselors, psychologists, nurses, social workers, CTE instructors, sign language interpreters, speech language pathologists, occupational therapists, and physical therapists. We are committed to advocating for safe, fully supported, and high-quality learning and working conditions for both students and educators.
We recognize that as educators and as a society, it is our responsibility to break historical patterns of inequity, challenge bias, and end the school-to-prison pipeline. It’s important that we balance the collective needs of all students and respect their individual rights. We believe in due process and support the guidelines outlined in the Colorado School Safety Manual (pages 22-36) for all students.
It’s important to note that to effectively address the needs of our students and public education, the State of Colorado must provide adequate funding for schools. Schools should not need to make forced choices about how they provide support to students. We are constantly asked to do more with less time and less resources. Truthfully, solving these funding challenges will require the support from a majority of Coloradans.
In light of recent tragedies and heightened concerns regarding school safety, DCTA leaders and representatives have been engaged in meaningful conversations. DCTA member feedback has been gathered through various channels, including an all-member survey, countless meetings, and conversations with community organizations that include DPS staff members and families.
After compiling feedback from our members and reviewing version one of the district’s safety plan, we are presenting our recommendation to the Superintendent as the district develops their long-term safety plan. We will continue to solicit member feedback throughout this process. We call on DPS to consider the following:
- Expanding mental health supports in every school – Our school safety survey revealed that a significant number of educators expressed they were not satisfied with the level of mental health support resources provided to students by the district. Many stated that they believe the district provides less than half of the necessary support to address students’ mental health needs. Participants also indicated that offering a full range of mental health services to students would help them feel safer in their schools, which was the second most important factor after smaller class sizes and caseloads caps.
- Reducing class sizes and caseloads – According to our safety survey, educators believe that smaller class sizes and caseloads are the most important factor in creating a safe school environment. By reducing class sizes, educators can establish strong connections with students and foster a welcoming and supportive learning environment. As the demand for mental and physical health services for students grows, specialized service providers are faced with increasingly large caseloads, which hinders their ability to provide adequate support to all students.
- Enforcing Article 18 of the DCTA Contract – Article 18 incorporates the state law’s focus on due process rights and intervention supports for students that include tier 1, tier 2 and tier 3 interventions beyond the discipline matrix. According to our survey data, 70% of educators stated they did not receive training around discipline plans and were unsure that their school discipline plan included information beyond the DPS matrix and discipline ladder. Additionally less than 5% of educators reported that their CSC received reports of the discipline plans to review its effectiveness. School leaders should be strongly encouraged to collaborate with the school leadership teams and revise school discipline plans that align with Article 18 of the DCTA contract.
- Reviewing district-wide discipline matrix – The district must conduct a thorough review of the discipline matrix and current board policies, removing ambiguous language that leaves room for individual interpretation and conduct a review of the placement and expulsion processes. Students should not have to wait to receive the support they need. A majority of educators who participated in the DCTA safety survey reported that they have not received training on their discipline plan this year or were uncertain if the plan has been reviewed or revised. Additionally, 89% of educators who took the survey expressed their lack of confidence in the district’s existing plan to address safety threats.
- Creating protocols for educators to identify and address student safety needs – A significant number of educators reported that they are not receiving adequate information on student support needs, including the process of collecting data, determining when to involve parents, and creating behavior or support plans. Around 45% of surveyed educators stated that they are rarely or never involved in creating student behavior or student support plans, while over 57% reported being unaware of the process altogether.
- Provide staff with training around restorative practices and de-escalation- According to the DCTA safety survey, almost 50% of educators who participated reported insufficient training on restorative practices and de-escalation techniques in schools. In addition to hiring more trained staff to support restorative practices, educators should receive training on the implementation of restorative practices and de-escalation techniques. Although educators are calling for additional training, we are constantly being asked to be everything, everywhere all at once without the time and resources to do so.
- Allow for school-based decisions on building safety needs – Our survey revealed that opinions among educators regarding the presence of School Resource Officers (SROs) in schools vary. Therefore, we support school-based decision-making on safety support needs. In the event that a school chooses to have an SRO, we recommend that they not be funded by Denver Public Schools and that their focus solely be on maintaining the physical safety of students, staff, and community. SROs should not ticket students for infractions that do not relate to physical safety within the school building.
We are advocating for collaborative partnerships to prioritize the safety and well-being of students and staff. We urge the new Mayor and City Council to work with Denver Public Schools to end gun violence and establish community supports that extends beyond our school system. Examples of these supports include partnering with the city to provide mental health, expanding day treatment and residential treatment opportunities for our students experiencing the most acute trauma and expanding after-school program opportunities for students. It is important that we continue to build our partnership with Denver health and expand healthcare opportunities for DPS families. We must increase affordable housing options for families and educators to avoid the trauma of housing insecurity.
As the district moves forward with developing a safety plan, we will continue to gather feedback from members through various channels. We ask the Superintendent to take our recommendations seriously, and work collaboratively with us to achieve the shared vision of safe and supportive learning environments.