DENVER (KDVR) — A room with locks on doors and windows that would prevent people from leaving a middle school room has been discovered at McAuliffe International School.
That information came from Auon’tai Anderson, the vice president of the Denver Public Schools Board of Education, during a news conference at district headquarters Thursday.
Anderson said he received photos and video of the room and locks from an anonymous staff member Tuesday night after a meeting at the school addressing problems with the school’s principal, Kurt Dennis.
“The fact that the room was called an ‘incarceration room’ by a staff member at the school in a work order to have it removed says enough,” Anderson said.
Photos of the lock were then shared during Anderson’s news conference.
One of the photos shows what is described as a barrel bolt latch on the outside of room 121E. Another shows a padlock on a window.
“Students of color were locked in this room multiple times last year,” the anonymous whistleblower stated in the email, according to Anderson.
Denver Public Schools prohibits rooms like this, which it formally refers to as seclusion rooms in its written policies. The term “de-escalation room” was also used during Thursday’s meeting.
“Right now, we have an investigation to figure out who was knowledgeable of said room. When students were in this room, were they alone? There are a lot of things we are still investigating,” Anderson said.
Board President Xochitl Gaytan and member Scott Esserman also spoke at the news conference, confirming the room had been discovered.
“The district was made aware of this room’s existence when VP Anderson provided the email he received yesterday morning. Before that time District leadership was not aware of this room,” DPS spokesman Bill Good said.
The allegations regarding the so-called incarceration room were made while DPS school board members were planning to vote on whether to uphold the termination of Dennis, the school’s principal.
Dennis said he believes he was fired after giving an interview criticizing the DPS policy to have administrators pat down students who need extra security screenings. Those statements came after a shooting at East High School.
“Kurt Dennis has never been disciplined for these allegations. These are after-the-fact excuses for him being fired because he went to the media to speak on safety concerns,” David Lane, Dennis’ attorney, said.
Lane also said these types of rooms are standard in schools and used to calm down violent students.
“Instead of calling the police, the teacher alerts the principal, Kurt in this case, who then goes with an administrator who goes to the classroom, and they gain the control of the violent student and walk that student to the de-escalation room. The theory is the kid calms down for 15 minutes and a psychologist goes in and talks to the kid, and they try to work through and de-escalate the problem.” Lane said.
Board members concerned about racism at McAuliffe
The new allegation regarding the seclusion room has board members concerned about what they say is possible oppression and systemic racism that may have existed at McAuliffe.
“I think based on the evidence we have in front of us and based on what the whistleblower has provided to us, absolutely,” Esserman said. “The whistleblower says students of color were placed into this environment, and if that’s not systemic oppression, I’m not sure what is.”
Superintendent Alex Marrero has confirmed the existence of the room, according to Anderson.
Anderson also said he and Esserman went to the school and saw Room 121E for themselves.
A full investigation is now underway to determine more facts about how the room was used.