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  • Writer's pictureJoanne Jacobs

Denver principal fired after criticizing safety policies


Cecilia Pablo, a former McAuliffe International student and now an aide, spoke at a rally supporting recently fired principal Kurt Dennis. Photo: Tony Gorman/CPR News

In March, a Denver high school student shot and injured two deans who were searching him for weapons. The student, who had a prior weapons charge, later shot and killed himself.


The situation isn't unique, said Kurt Dennis, principal of McAuliffe International, in an interview with 9News a few days later. His middle-school staff was required to search a student awaiting trial for attempted murder. The district had refused to transfer the student, who was not named, to an online school or expel him, Dennis said.


Superintendent Alex Marrero fired the outspoken principal on July 3, charging he revealed private student information, reports Chalkbeat's Melanie Asmar. A Denver Public Schools investigator also concluded that Dennis “repeatedly attempted to remove a young student of color from McAuliffe International,” despite being told removal “was not available or appropriate,” and relied too heavily on out-of-school suspensions causing "a disparate impact on students of color."


Under district policy, "students facing criminal charges can attend their regular schools as long as a judge has decided the student can be out in the community," writes Asmar. The policy is controversial.


After the East High shooting, the school board "reversed its ban on police in schools, and Marrero released a new safety plan that calls for armed safety officers to help school staff with weapons searches."


McAuliffe International's suspension rate is 7 percent, much lower than at a number of other large Denver middle schools, Asmar reports. Black students are more likely to be suspended at McAuliffe -- and at other middle schools as well.


McAuliffe is hiring a new part-time staffer to mentor boys of color in hopes of reducing the discipline disparity, said Colleen O’Brien, the executive director of the Northeast Denver Innovation Zone and Dennis’ supervisor. "She also pointed out that students of color at McAuliffe International scored higher than students of color districtwide in both literacy and math on state tests last year," reports Asmar.

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