Denver Public Schools is investigating McAuliffe International Principal Kurt Dennis for speaking out in a television interview about having a violent student placed in his school who must be searched daily for weapons.
Dennis’ attorney, David Lane, confirmed to 9NEWS Friday (April 28) that Dennis is under investigation related to the March 24 interview he did with the station. Dennis objected to being forced to accept a student who is charged with attempted first-degree murder and other offenses. The district has refused to move the student.
Lane cautioned DPS last week that any employment action taken against Dennis would result in federal court action. The district risks violating Dennis’ First Amendment rights to free speech, Lane told 9NEWS Friday.
“I am informed that an investigation has been launched regarding his (Dennis) recent appearance on 9-NEWS wherein he discussed the problem of violent students being permitted to attend Denver public schools,” Lane wrote to the DPS board and Superintendent Alex Marrero.
“This is to inform you that if this Board takes any adverse employment action against him or continues to undertake a bad-faith investigation of him, we will immediately proceed into the United States District Court for the district of Colorado and seek relief against you in that venue.”
During the 9NEWS interview Friday, Lane made his intentions crystal clear to the district.
“If you touch one little principal hair on his little principal head, you’ll be in federal court explaining to a federal judge why you’re violating his First Amendment freedom of speech,” Lane said.
Dennis and Lane were unavailable for comment.
A spokesperson for DPS said, in a written statement to 9NEWS, “Denver Public Schools has not seen a formal complaint, so we are not able to comment on that situation. It is our desire to have open conversations directly with the employee and their representative.”
A DPS Board spokesperson said, in a written statement,
“Educational equity is our collective responsibility. Denver Public Schools is dedicated to providing all students the education they deserve and ensuring that their rights to privacy and a free, appropriate education are protected. The potential investigation of any employee is an operational matter and not under the purview of the Board of Education. Due to the nature of the circumstances, we cannot comment further.”
Dennis was motivated to speak out after a student who was subject to daily pat downs shot and wounded two East High administrators during a morning search March 22.
In rejecting Dennis’ request to remove the student from McAuliffe, a DPS Student Discipline Program Manager said, “As there is no evidence that [the student] was in possession of a firearm on his school grounds or at any other DPS school, the request for an extended suspension and expulsion hearing is denied. Please return the student to school.”
This is the second time in six months the district has been challenged for allegedly violating an employee or parent’s free speech rights. Last fall, the district imposed a series of restrictions on Brandon Pryor, an education activist and co-founder of the STEAM Academy in far Northeast Denver, according to a story in Boardhawk, a Colorado education news site and partner of www.CPEDNews.org.
District officials cited a pattern of “harassment, bullying, intimidation and threats” by Pryor against administrators in imposing the ban. The district banned Pryor from attending school board meetings, contacting board members and administrators, coaching football and visiting the STEAM Academy, according to Boardhawk.
In November, federal Judge John Kane found that the district violated Pryor’s free speech rights.
The district modified the restrictions against Pryor in November, allowing him to attend board meetings and contact district officials. But DPS continued banning him from coaching football and from visiting the STEAM Academy. Kane reaffirmed his initial order in March after DPS appealed.
DPS has appealed Kane’s order to the Denver-based U.S. 10th Circuit Court of Appeals. A date for a hearing has not been announced.
The Foundation for Sustainable Urban Communities produces CPEDNews.org. and supports many Central Park public schools with grants for education programing.