Denver Public Schools confirms its use of confidentiality agreements for employees

The district confirmed the use of NDAs after its former communications director spoke out publicly.
will jones press conference.jpg
Posted at 5:35 PM, Apr 18, 2024
and last updated 2024-04-18 19:38:07-04

DENVER — Days after its former head of communications accused Denver Public Schools (DPS) of trying to silence former employees, the district confirmed its use of non-disclosure agreements (NDAs).

DPS said its use of NDAs predates current Superintendent Dr. Alex Marrero. But the public was not made aware of the NDAs until Will Jones, the former executive director of communications for DPS, shared the information with the Board of Education Monday night.

Jones’s decision to speak publicly about the matter has the support of many DPS parents.

Following last year's shooting at Denver's East High School, parents like Lynne Ly have been worried sick.

“I worry about my son at East every day,” said Ly.

She accuses the district of ignoring their concerns.

“We are yelling. We're screaming," said Ly. "No one's listening."

That's why she's happy Jones is speaking out. Ly said he is “validating our suspicions” about the district.

Jones took part in an hour-long press conference on Thursday at Brother Jeff’s Culture Center in Denver's Five Points neighborhood. He said he is not a disgruntled former employee but rather a concerned grandparent.

“Maybe it's because I'm a former journalist, information is a good thing,” said Jones. “People need to know, especially when you're dropping off your child in one of our schools.”

Jones said the district offered him money in exchange for staying silent about his time working in the district.

“The district offered me $40,000. But I have to give up all of my rights if I want to pursue any legal action against the district,” said Jones. “I would rather not have the money and continue to push for helping our communities and our board members get more information as much as possible.”

On Thursday, DPS confirmed to Denver7 its use of NDAs but said it does not stop employees from speaking out.

“Denver Public Schools prioritizes the safeguarding of student and employee information. Numerous employees, including those in student services, human resources, legal, communications, and IT, require access to confidential data and sign NDAs to remind them of their obligations under privacy laws,” said Scott Pribble, the director of external communications. “These NDAs do not prevent employees from speaking out, as all who sign are still protected under the Federal Whistleblower Protection Program, ensuring they can report wrongdoing to the appropriate authorities without fear of retaliation.”

Pribble said the use of NDAs predates Marrero’s arrival as superintendent.

“It is important to note that non-disclosure agreements are subject to legal regulation in Colorado. Our district strictly adheres to Colorado law, ensuring that any non-disclosure provisions in severance agreements are narrowly tailored and legally compliant,” said Pribble.

Former DPS board member Auon’tai Anderson attended Jones’s press conference.

“I do believe that there are certain confidential information that employees and former employees need to be very clear that you cannot share that information,” Anderson said.

Jones also accused the district of trying to keep the school board in the dark. He said whenever a board member asked him a question about an issue, instead of providing an answer, he had to refer them to Marrero.

Jones said he has spoken to a couple of current board members over the last few days but declined to name them.

Pribble said as part of the Policy Governance Model the board adopted, board members are not involved in the day-to-day operations of the district.

“The Board interacts directly only with the Superintendent, their sole employee, to ensure a streamlined management structure. This approach aligns with best practices endorsed by the Colorado Association of School Boards (CASB) and facilitates accountability and effective communication,” Pribble said.

Anderson said the governance model never got in his way.

“I always governed myself in accordance with the law of the constitution of the State of Colorado and I didn't allow a governance model to constrict or restrict my ability to engage with my constituents or to engage with my sole employee (the superintendent) or their subordinates,” said Anderson.

Anderson said other models could be used and said he has voiced support for some in the past.

“However, I do want us to make sure that we are not throwing the district into chaos trying to find a new policy, a new governance model when we could be looking at what can we be refining,” Anderson said.

Jones said he doesn't have any “beef” with Marrero.

“I proudly did my best for him,” said Jones. “Apparently, my best wasn’t good enough.”

As for Ly, she doubts things will change under Marrero.

“I don't like him,” she said. “I think he is a poor leader.”

Denver Public Schools confirms its use of confidentiality agreements for employees

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