Subscribe to our weekly newsletter

Our free weekly e-newsletter provides journalistic coverage of Central Park schools, with a particular emphasis on topics that our community cares most about (i.e.  safety, funding, school choice, district leadership).

Your email address will only be used for the newsletter and not shared.

Dennis says he followed DPS policy to set up de-escalation room and how to use it

Please click here for a link to an Aug. 4 story from 9News about recent allegations that Kurt Dennis, former principal of McAuliffe International School, misused a room at the school as a “seclusion room’’ for disruptive students experiencing behavioral and emotional difficulties.

Below is background of the situation and Dennis’ response to the allegations. 

On Aug. 3 three Denver Public Schools board members, Auon’tai Anderson, Scott Esserman and Xóchitl “Sochi” Gaytán, accused former McAuliffe principal Kurt Dennis of improperly using a de-escalation room at the Park Hill middle school the last school year.

Students experiencing an emotional or behavioral crisis are escorted to a de-escalation room to regain their composure and ability to safely return to a classroom. They are to be accompanied by a staff member and the door is to remain open.

The board members alleged that Dennis had a “seclusion room” in which a student is alone, and the door is closed. DPS does not permit seclusion rooms. De-escalation rooms exist throughout the district.

The district is investigating the use of the room, as is the Denver Police Dept. after Anderson reported it to them.

Dennis was fired after 12 years as McAuliffe principal in early July after he spoke out in a television interview in March against district policy requiring him to conduct daily searches for weapons of a student who had been charged with a violent crime while attending a school in another district.

Kurt Dennis’ Response to Claims Regarding De-Escalation Room at McAuliffe International School

McAuliffe International School has hosted an Affective Needs Program for the past nine years. These programs are created by Denver Public Schools and are meant to serve students with severe emotional and behavioral disabilities. The typical program has 8 to 12 students, a teacher and two paraprofessionals. Very little guidance is provided to school leaders into how to run these programs. There is no training or handbook for leaders, and there is no assistance with finding qualified individuals to support these programs. School administrators are left to their own devices to determine how to manage very challenging behaviors and student needs
while also running an entire school.

As part of the AN program, the school creates a de-escalation room where a student who has become violent towards classmates, staff or themselves is moved to a safe location where they can safely calm down without harming others or themselves. De-escalation rooms are common in schools across the district and are created in accordance with guidelines provided by DPS to ensure that the space is safe for the student. McAuliffe worked with DPS staff in the spring of 2023 to ensure that our de-escalation room was designed to specifications and although it had exterior windows and exposed pipes, it was approved for use provided that we have construction work performed at cost to the school to get the room up to standard. The district also provided McAuliffe with reinforced paneling in our de-escalation room so that an escalated student could not punch holes in the drywall. Please note that no guidance is provided by the district on how to secure the door to a de-escalation room.

When behaviors that endanger others occur, the student is moved to the de-escalation room where they were required to remain for 15 minutes until they were no longer a threat to themselves or others. Unfortunately, when a student is moved to the de-escalation room, it takes a while for them to calm down and the violent behaviors can continue for some time.

The challenge that we were presented with was that when a student enters the de-escalation room, they would grab the interior door handle and repeatedly open and slam the door shut as forcefully as they could, endangering both themselves and the adult(s) supervising them. A student would also fully open the door and run out of the de-escalation room causing our team to have to move them back into the space. In these circumstances, I would try to physically secure the door, but this was not a sustainable practice.

In light of this situation, I made the decision to have a latch put on the outside of the door that allowed us to secure the door from the outside while the student de-escalated alone inside the room. There is a window in the door so that we could see into the room and an adult was also present at all times and observing to make sure that the student was safe. When a student completes their 15 minute cool down and is in the frame of mind to safely return to class, they are supported by a one-on-one paraprofessional.

After using the exterior latch for a few days, our team determined that it would be best to have a system where we took turns in shifts securing the door and the latch was removed. For the remainder of the school year, we personally secured the door and monitored the room when necessary.



Scroll to Top