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Denver Public Schools bans Robert F. Smith STEAM Academy co-founder Brandon Pryor from school properties

Brandon Pryor.jpg
Posted at 3:18 PM, Oct 25, 2022
and last updated 2022-10-25 20:53:23-04

DENVER – One week after Denver Public Schools officials dismissed Robert F. Smith STEAM Academy Co-Founder Brandon Pryor from his volunteer and coach position at the school, Pryor said the district is retaliating against him for publicly highlighting equity issues within the school district.

“Some of the things that I call out are about the facility. Why are we fighting for a facility, and we have to check every box in doing so, when DPS can go right across town for an affluent white community, and spend $40 million to purchase a Johnson and Wales building?” Pryor asked.

Robert F. Smith STEAM Academy opened in August 2021 and was founded on the principals of Historically Black Colleges and Universities (HBCU). It is currently housed in a former office building.

Denver Public Schools bans Robert F. Smith STEAM Academy co-founder Brandon Pryor from school properties

Pryor said as a co-founder, he envisioned a space where Black students would feel safe and free to express themselves. But Pryor said the school building lacks a kitchen, library, and athletic space, stopping the school from reaching its goal.

“Speaking truth to power is what led to this moment. The district is uncomfortable,” Pryor said.

On Oct. 18, the district issued a letter to Pryor notifying him of his dismissal and also banning him from school property, with the exception of his child’s school.

“DPS police officers…pulled up to my house to serve me this letter. Yeah, so they came to my house and I felt criminalized, you know what I mean? In front of my neighbors. This is a communication they could have sent to me via email,” Pryor said.

In the letter, the district accuses Pryor of “repeated abusive, bullying, threatening, and intimidating conduct directed at staff of Denver Public Schools.”

The letter sites multiple incidents in which Pryor was perceived as exhibiting threatening behavior.

One incident the district sited happened before the school opened.

On October 24, 2020, during a phone call between Pryor and a Regional Instructional Superintendent Pryor, the district alleges Pryor said: "We need to be at the table for EVERYTHING…Period. And I am not asking, so we are clear. Including the curriculum!!! Nothing is to be turned in for review without me seeing it! Is that clear?"

The letter also cites a December 7, 2021 Facebook post in which Pryor wrote: “Warning! Don’t poke a resting bear!”

But Prior said neither posts were threatening.

“You got a big Black male, who is vocal, who is, you know, maybe my tone isn't as soft as they'd like it to be. So they tried to equate that to me being intimidating, or threatening,” Pryor said.

After Denver7 requested a copy of Pryor’s dismissal letter, the district also released videos with no sound showing what appears to be Pryor in tense conversations and a letter issued to Pryor in January 2022, restricting his access to Robert F. Smith STEAM Academy.

The district included paperwork outlining past crimes Pryor was accused of and a mugshot Pryor said was from 2002.

The district's paperwork reveals district leaders had access to this information before Pryor started working as a volunteer and coach in 2021.

“Since then, I've taken a background check every year and passed… it’s retaliation,” Pryor said.

Last week, to protest Pryor’s dismissal, several Robert F. Smith STEAM Academy students held a walkout.

“Definitely miss the students. It's hard. It's hard…I want them to continue focusing on their grades and in school, don't let this be a distraction,” Pryor said.

Another protest is planned for Wednesday, October 26 at 2:30 p.m. at Brother Jeff’s Cultural Center on Welton Street.