DENVER — The president, vice president and treasurer of the Denver Public Schools Board of Education shared new information Thursday morning to justify the firing of former McAuliffe International School principal Kurt Dennis, an issue that's drawn criticism from some community members.
In a news conference Thursday, vice president Auon'tai Anderson claimed a whistleblower on staff at McAuliffe International School revealed earlier in the week that students of color had been locked inside a room with a lock on the outside during the 2022-2023 school year.
Anderson said he spoke with District Superintendent Dr. Alex Marrero, who confirmed this room — Room 121E — did exist, but that the district had no prior knowledge of the room or its existence. The lock was removed from the door after a work order was submitted by a school employee, citing the room needed repairs.
The work order stated that there were "multiple holes in drywall due to student rage and incarceration," according to Anderson.
Anderson said he and school board director at-large Scott Esserman went to McAuliffe to investigate and discovered that "locks had also been placed on the windows of the room, (and) that the vent in the room was destroyed."
"It is my recommendation that this must be reviewed by the Denver Police Department and the Colorado Bureau of Investigation to ensure that none of the adults detained any student against their will and ensure that these acts did not result in serious physical or emotional harm toward our students," Anderson said.
He added that the Board of Education had been briefed and were investigating.
"Unfortunately, it doesn’t surprise me," said Deronn Turner, a DPS parent. “It’s very disheartening and frustrating being that I have four Black children.”
Kwame Spearman, candidate for school board, attended the news conference and said this latest controversy highlights the need for a new direction in DPS.
“Obviously, if it was used in a manner detrimental to students – that’s a huge issue," Spearman said. "At the same time, it is concerning that we are hearing about this room now. And to the best of my knowledge, this room was not a part of why Kurt Dennis was fired in the first place. So, the bottom line is – this is a mess - and we need a new generation of leadership.”
Some parents and supporters of Dennis said the room was a deescalation room, was approved by the district and these rooms are common across many DPS schools.
Anderson said the allegations must be taken seriously.
“Students in our district do not go to prison when they wake up at 8 a.m. They go to school," Anderson said.
Dennis said he was fired after he came forward back in March to criticize DPS over safety concerns at McAuliffe International School, particularly daily pat downs of some students.
The same protocol led up to a shooting at East High in February.
Parents rallied around Dennis in July because many credit him for turning around this once failing school.