Denver Public Schools fires principal after he raises school safety concerns during interview

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Denver Public Schools fires principal after he raises school safety concerns during interview

Updated at 9:20 a.m. on Saturday, July 8, 2023.

Denver Public Schools has fired the principal of McAuliffe International School of 12 years, just a month before staffing returns to one of the district’s largest middle schools.

While McAuliffe’s supervisor, Curt Dennis shared concerns about the district’s safety practices in an interview with 9News earlier this spring. On Wednesday, Dennis received a letter saying he was fired. The interview was cited as one of the reasons.

In the interview, Dennis shared that he was informed that one of the students at his school was accused of attempted murder. As a result, Dennis requested an extended suspension as well as a distance learning option for the student. The DPS refused both requests. Denver police are also not encouraging a return to attendance for the student.

In the termination letter, DPS said Dennis was also fired for allegedly violating the student’s privacy by participating in the interview. Dennis told CPR that while he told 9News that a student had been charged with attempted murder, he did not provide information he was prohibited from sharing, nor did he reveal the student’s identity or offer any identifiable characteristics.

David Lane, Dennis’ attorney, said he confirmed with 9News’ Chris Vanderveen that Vanderveen was never shown confidential information.

In a statement, DPS said they were “prohibited from sharing information related to confidential personnel matters” but cited “management concerns” in their decision to fire Dennis.

DPS has since said that “the termination had little to do with any media interviews, but rather the sharing of confidential student information in violation of state and federal laws.”

In a statement released Friday evening, DPS Superintendent Alex Marrero doubled down on the district’s reason for firing Dennis, reiterating that the decision was the result of “several concerns, including the sharing of private student information in a manner that the district believes violated the law and district policy.”

“Mr. Dennis could have expressed his concern about the district’s safety practices without disclosing private, personal information about one of his students,” Marrero said in the statement. “As school leaders, it is our duty and responsibility to do everything in our power to protect the privacy of our students.”

Dennis is in the process of filing a lawsuit that could begin as early as next week, citing First Amendment protections.

He said he initially took the interview in an effort to create transparency around DPS’ safety policies in hopes that it might spark change. He hoped to see alternative education and support plans for students in the justice system because of gun crimes. Dennis also said there needs to be training accompanied by protocols and guidelines from DPS.

“Any time a student demonstrates the ability to obtain and the willingness to use a weapon to harm another person, it prevents them from returning to a traditional classroom,” Dennis told CPR. “That doesn’t mean he shouldn’t be given the opportunity to get an education, but there has to be an alternative to the student just going back to school with fifteen hundred people and pretending everything is normal.” Because it isn’t.”

Tyler Carlson’s son recently celebrated moving into eighth grade at McAuliffe. He found out from the news that the principal of his school had been fired. As of Friday, no message has been sent to students and parents.

Dennis’ spring interview was also the first Carlson heard about the high school patting down students and conducting threat assessments, similar to East High, where his other son is starting his senior year.

“I am glad [Dennis] spoke up and I certainly hope the district changes its policies as a result so we can stop another tragedy like what happened at East High School,” Carlson said, referring to an incident in which a student shot two school deans during a routine pat down this spring.

Dennis told CPR that neither he nor any of his staff had received training on how to conduct these “pats” and did not feel adequately prepared to do so.

“The fact that they were forcing local schools to accept and serve students who have either criminal records or pending criminal records and not provide the resources and training for staff to deal with them safely is just unbelievable,” Carlson said.

Molly Lacey is a mental health social worker at McAuliffe and has two children who attended the school last year. She learned of Dennis’ termination from a text group chat in which co-workers shared the 9News article. Aside from a Zoom staff meeting held Friday morning to discuss the implications of his firing, Lacey said there has been no internal communication or notification of an interim leader.

In light of an online petition calling for his reinstatement, Lacy said students and staff would be happy to have Dennis back. As of Friday, the petition, which was launched earlier that day, had collected 2,500 signatures.

“[DPS] says they care about the kids, but with a month before school, to yank a principal out of a building who has been there and shaped the school from the ground up, with no interim backup plan, is demoralizing and feels very vindictive,” Lacey said .

Lacey says she is disappointed by the news and has had a positive experience under Dennis.

As for next steps, Dennis said he has a daughter who will be leaving for college this fall, and he’s looking for a job. In the meantime, he said he will miss the McAuliffe community the most.

“McAuliffe is a special place, and it’s special because it’s a community that’s very diverse and integrated,” Dennis said. “People get along well and the work is challenging. Middle school is hard, and a middle school with 1,500 kids is really hard. But for every challenge there is joy. More than anything, I will miss the community, the collegiality and the kids.”

This story has been updated with a statement from DPS Superintendent Alex Marrero.

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