A Colorado school board backed its district’s decision to fire a middle school principal for raising concerns about school security.
The Denver Public Schools (DPS) Board of Education voted 6-1 on Thursday to terminate McAuliffe International School principal Kurt Dennis after he spoke to 9NEWS about his safety concerns following the East High School shooting.
During the interview, Dennis said staff at McAuliffe were forced to do daily pat downs on students. Some of the students, he said, were accused of crimes such as attempted murder.
The same searches were being conducted at East High School when a student shot and injured two staff members.
“It’s not our job to do it,” Dennis told 9NEWS. “We’re not trained to do it. There were no guidelines or guidance on how to do it properly or safely or where to do it or when to do it.”
DPS claimed Dennis “divulged confidential student and legal records,” a violation of district policy. It also claimed Dennis caused the student who was being searched to be ostracized.
However, Chris Vanderveen, a reporter for 9NEWS, says confidential information wasn’t broadcasted during the interview.
“It’s important to note that the information we broadcasted was redacted and personal information was never shared,” Vanderveen said.
Instead, Dennis’ attorney, David Lane argues DPS violated his First Amendment rights.
“Any government employee who’s coming forward raising an issue of serious public concern, which is exactly what Kurt did, has complete 100% First Amendment protection,” Lane said according to 9NEWS.
Following the shooting, the same school board that voted to terminate Dennis held a closed-door meeting to discuss security concerns and their own professional futures, as previously reported by The Lion.
The public only gained access to the redacted recording of the closed-door meeting following a judicial order.
In the closed-door meeting, DPS attorney Aaron Thompson acknowledged the district could be liable for not protecting its students and staff.
“Yeah, it could,” Thompson said. “I don’t think we’re there yet based on the incident that happened at East.” Then the recording cuts out.
Since Dennis was fired, parents and students have voiced their disapproval during school board public comment sessions.
“I think you should put Kurt back in his place because he’s made McAuliffe into the best school,” middle schooler Ella Rustici said according to Chalkbeat. “Standardized test scores at McAuliffe are high and he got fired and that’s not fair.”
Dennis was even approached by a father who told him, “You know, my kid was at your school for three years and what you taught her by speaking out is more important than anything she’s learned in any of your classrooms.”
Lane says he plans to file a federal lawsuit on behalf of Dennis in the coming days, according to Chalkbeat.