New DPS superintendent named in lawsuit over COVID response

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DENVER (KDVR) — The man chosen to lead Denver Public Schools is named in a new lawsuit in his former school district, where a former medical director alleges he and other leaders sidelined and retaliated against her for raising concerns during the COVID-19 pandemic.

Dr. Brooke Balchan worked as a medical director for the City School District of New Rochelle when Alex Marrero — who awaits confirmation as the new DPS superintendent — also worked in top leadership roles. Balchan claimed she “was silenced” when she recommended school closure in the the earliest weeks of the pandemic and was sidelined or ignored when it came to making decisions, including when Marrero became the district’s acting superintendent.

“Unfortunately, leadership played politics over public safety and this District leadership began silencing and impeding Dr. Balchan’s efforts to keep the school community informed, prepared, and safe,” the lawsuit claims. “Dr. Balchan blew the whistle multiple times internally to her superiors and externally to governmental authorities to intervene on behalf of the students and staff based on public safety concerns.”

Balchan filed the federal lawsuit Friday in the Southern District of New York.

Denver Board of Education leaders issued a joint statement Friday evening in response to the news.

“The complaint was filed against New Rochelle district leadership and not Dr. Marrero alone. We have reviewed the information contained in the complaint that involves Dr. Marrero, and we have been in contact with New Rochelle School District about the matter. We have full confidence in Dr. Marrero, and we stand behind our choice for superintendent,” said Carrie Olson, board president, and Jennifer Bacon, board vice president.

Marrero worked as the assistant superintendent of curriculum and instruction when coronavirus began to spread through New Rochelle, and he later transitioned to the role of acting superintendent in September.

Balchan claims Marrero disregarded her recommendations for a student screening platform for the district, and he also reversed decisions to fully close the district in November, when New Rochelle reached an elevated point in COVID-19 spread.

Balchan claims the tension came to a head in January, when she learned from Marrero about a school staff vaccination program that she reported as illegal, as they were not yet eligible for the vaccine. The state shut down the program within hours.

Balchan claimed the stress of the situation impacted her health, and when she took leave under the Family Medical Leave Act, the district didn’t reinstate her.

“Dr. Balchan’s professional growth through the COVID-19 pandemic has been stunted by the unfounded removal from her position. Dr. Balchan feels humiliated and is concerned that her reputation and standing as Medical Director for the District is forever tarnished,” the suit claims.

A spokesperson for the City School District of New Rochelle said they hadn’t been served the suit as of Friday evening. The district denied wrongdoing in a statement.

“The District categorically denies any current or former District employees have been silenced or retaliated against, in any manner, in connection with the District’s response to the COVID-19 pandemic,” the statement reads. “The District takes great pride in the manner in which its leadership team has handled all aspects of this unprecedented crisis. Any assertion that District representatives have acted in an unlawful manner in responding to the pandemic is simply false.”

FOX31 has also contacted Balchan’s attorneys for further comment.

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