DENVER (KDVR) — Former principal Kurt Dennis has been implicated in the alleged misuse of a seclusion room at McAuliffe International School.
Auon’tai Anderson, the vice president of the Denver Public Schools Board of Education, said in a news conference Monday that numerous whistleblowers had come forward about what they called an “incarceration room.” Anderson said their stories have been corroborated through the DPS investigation.
Anderson said the initial whistleblower did not want to speak to investigators or the office of the council because they said “the issue at hand extends beyond just the former principal. It implicates the entire administrative body.”
Dennis’ lawyer, David Lane, provided a statement in response to the allegations involving his client.
“Kurt Dennis was fired because, after the shootings at East High School, he criticized the Denver School Board’s extremely dangerous policies on patting down students accused of gun violence instead of having them learn remotely. DPS is now attempting to smear him as a racist for using a de-escalation room which is entirely sanctioned and is an official policy of the School Board,” Lane said in the statement.
Lawyer: Violent students placed in room
Lane said the school board is “attempting to make it look like students were placed into a torture chamber based on race, when the reality was that students who committed violent acts in school and had approval from psychologists, parents and the school were placed in a de-escalation room to calm down at which time a school psychologist would talk with them.”
While the district refers to the McAuliffe room in question as a prohibited “seclusion room” — a room in which a student is isolated — Lane referred to it as a de-escalation room, which the district said entails a separate situation that involves an open door and adult supervision.
Lane said there was no policy or protocol in place on what to do with a student who continued to behave violently while in the room, so Dennis would hold the door shut and monitor the student. When the child stopped being violent, Dennis and a psychologist would then enter the room.
“The alternative to the de-escalation room was to call the police who would handcuff the student and take them to juvenile detention, which is far less humane than the de-escalation room, which usually lasted about 15 minutes,” Lane said in the statement.
According to Lane, only two students were in the room last year. The students, one white and one Black, had it as part of their IEP, or individual education plan. He said the room was approved by DPS and Dennis had never been disciplined over its use.
“This is an after-the-fact excuse for firing him for blowing the whistle on DPS and their policy, which puts the lives of students and faculty at risk every day,” Lane said.
DPS board members said a bill is being drafted by Rep. Regina English to ban seclusion rooms in schools.
Monday, the district announced that the interim principal at the school had been placed on administrative leave per policy.