Study Shows Segregation Prevalent in DPS Schools

By Eric Heinz

Denver Public Schools (DPS) has seen a backward trend in the way schools are segregated among students of economic situations and racial backgrounds, according to a study recently published by the Latino Education Coalition (LEC).

Key findings from the study included that schools segregated by race (with predominantly students of color) have above-average rates of students in poverty, English learners and special education students, with below- average rates of what are known as “gifted and talented” students. Meanwhile, schools segregated by race (with predominantly white students) have above-average rates of gifted and talented as well as wealthy students, with below-average rates of students in poverty, English learners, and special education students.

Economic status was tracked by using the percentage of each school’s students who opt in for a reduced-cost lunch program.

“These findings indicate that school segregation is a pervasive problem in Denver Public Schools, impacts a majority of certain student populations such as Latino and English learner students, represents disparate and at times inferior resources and designations and reflects reduced student outcomes,” the study noted.

DPS Superintendent Alex Marrero told The G.E.S. Gazette a subsequent study is being prepared with the LEC, and based on those results he said he will look at bringing a presentation and possible policy suggestions to the Board of Education.

“In the meantime, when we engage in a deeper study, we need to have everyone in the DPS community to look in the mirror to ask if our own actions have contributed to re-segregation,” Marrero said, adding there are other studies the district has been compiling with regard to demographics. “How much evidence do we need?”

When asked whether the district’s school of choice program, which allows students more flexibility in choosing where they attend, contributed to re-segregation, Marrero said subsequent studies that are planned with the LEC will need to confirm whether that’s the case.

“We can’t just make assumptions,” Marrero said.

A 1973 U.S. Supreme Court decision, Keyes v. School District No. 1, found that DPS had engaged in discriminatory segregation practices and ordered the district to be proactive in desegregating schools. In 1995, a federal judge ruled DPS had complied with the desegregation order.

But it only took two years after the Supreme Court mandate was lifted for schools to start to become more segregated again, LEC member and study co-author Craig Peña told the Gazette.

“What happened was DPS effectively stopped busing by race and ethnicity, and the state passed legislation to prohibit busing by race,” Peña said. “So, the guardrails were lifted. There was no more intentional integration occurring.”

“DPS has found itself to effectively be more segregated now than when Keyes was first addressed,” a note from the study added.

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