DENVER (KDVR) — FOX31 and five other Denver-based news organizations formed a media coalition to file a lawsuit against Denver Public Schools over an alleged improper executive session that resulted in a reversal of its policy to bring school resource officers back into classrooms.

A day after a student at East High School shot two administrators and ultimately took his own life, the DPS Board of Education and Superintendent Alex Marrero entered a nearly five-hour-long executive session during a board meeting. The purpose of the executive session was to discuss “specialized details of security arrangements or investigations as a result of the incident that occurred on March 22, 2023,” and discussion of “individual students where public disclosure would adversely affect that person or persons involved as a result of the incident that occurred March 22, 2023,” according to the board’s website.

The board and several high-ranking administrators entered the executive session with the district’s general counsel at 10:20 a.m. They were also joined by the district’s head of public relations at 1:15 p.m., according to executive session minutes approved by the board.

The group exited executive session at 2:53 p.m., and board President Xochitl Gaytan apologized to the waiting public and said, “We have had lengthy discussions, lengthy conversations.”

The board then read a memorandum that had not been publicly released prior to the executive session. The memo suspended the board’s previous policy for school resource officers and directed the superintendent to develop a long-term safety operational plan for the district. It gave the superintendent a deadline of June 30 to present that plan to the board ahead of the 2023-24 school year.

The memo also directed Marrero to work with Denver Mayor Michael Hancock to “externally fund as many as two School Resource Officers and as many as two additional mental health professionals … at all high schools for the remainder of the 2022-23 school year.”

Gaytan, DPS Board of Education Vice President Auon’tai Anderson and Carrie Olson read the memo section by section. Gaytan opened the floor to discussion for a few seconds before moving to a vote.

The vote to approve the memo was unanimous. Back in 2020, board members Anderson, Olson and Scott Baldermann voted to remove resource officers from schools.

Under Colorado’s Sunshine Law, policy decisions need to be made during open public meetings in public view. FOX31 filed a Colorado Open Records Act request for the full recording of the executive session. DPS denied the request.

FOX31 was not alone in this effort, as journalists from the Denver Post, Denver Gazette, Newsline Colorado, Chalkbeat and 9NEWS also filed CORA requests for the recording, and were also denied.

Denver news media coalition files lawsuit

The six news organizations listed above banded together and entered into an agreement with Rachael Johnson with the Reporters Committee for Freedom of the Press, and Steven Zansberg with the Law Office of Steven D. Zansberg, LLC, to formally sue the district for allegedly holding a closed-door public meeting that does not meet the threshold of executive session.

The lawsuit formally names the records custodian for Denver Public Schools, who denied the open records requests from the six news outlets.

“No public discussion, whatsoever, preceded the Board’s historic about-face concerning its policy of preventing armed ‘School Resource Officers’ inside the District’s high schools. None. It is clear and irrefutable that the Board had already decided, behind closed doors, to adopt the position or resolution in the Memorandum that they then unanimously voted to approve in public without discussion — a mere ‘rubber stamping’ of their earlier decision,” the lawsuit said.

The lawsuit seeks to release the recording to all media organizations involved in the lawsuit, including FOX31. If a judge determines there are aspects of the meeting that are valid subjects of a proper executive session, those portions may be redacted.

When asked for a response to the lawsuit, a spokesperson for DPS said the district does not comment on pending litigation.