Denver Public Schools put the interim principal of McAuliffe International School on paid leave Monday, days after the district announced its investigation into the use of a locked “seclusion room” at the middle school as a form of discipline for students.
Micah Klaver had succeeded Kurt Dennis, who previously led the school and was fired last month, as interim principal. But at a news conference Monday, school board Vice President Auon’tai Anderson alleged Klaver also was potentially involved in putting students in the room.
DPS spokesman Bill Good confirmed Klaver was placed on administrative leave, but did not offer a reason. The district’s Northeast Denver Innovation Zone board, which helps oversee the school, sent a letter to parents announcing DPS’s decision, saying Klaver was put on “paid, non-punitive” leave and that the decision “does not suggest that Mr. Klaver has acted in any inappropriate manner.”
McAuliffe’s new interim principal will be current Northfield High Principal Amy Bringedahl.
Members of the district’s Board of Education announced last week that DPS is investigating the use of the seclusion room at McAuliffe after Anderson received an email from an anonymous employee who alleged students of color were locked inside the room multiple times during the 2022-23 academic year.
The employee, Anderson said, declined to speak with investigators, telling district leaders, “The responsibility for these events transpired is a collective with some individuals actively participating in the detainment and the restraint of the students in the room, including the new interim principal.”
Most of the employee’s allegations have been corroborated during the district’s investigation, Anderson said during a news conference Monday morning.
“This has now potentially implicated the interim leader of the school and other school admin as potential co-conspirators — and this must be investigated,” Anderson said.
The Denver Police Department has opened an investigation into the use of the room and the Colorado Department of Education has indicated that it might look into the matter as well.
Board members have alleged the room was created under Dennis’s leadership and shared photos of the room that showed locks on the windows and outside of the door, measures that would prevent anyone inside from leaving.
DPS officials said Friday that at least three students were placed in the room.
The school district fired Dennis after he spoke in a television interview about DPS employees being required to check students for weapons, including one who the former principal alleged was charged with attempted murder. The interview came in the aftermath of a March shooting at East High School in which a teen undergoing a similar search shot and injured two deans.
DPS leaders have said Dennis shared confidential student information in violation of state and federal laws during the interview. They also cited other reasons for his termination in a letter as well, including saying that he violated policies by repeatedly trying to remove a student of color from the school.
Additionally, DPS has alleged that there have been multiple complaints and investigations into McAuliffe’s use of discipline in recent years, including an “overuse of out-of-school suspensions” that disproportionately affected students of color.
But the district’s termination of Dennis has drawn criticism from parents and other community members, who have called on DPS and the school board to reinstate him at McAuliffe. However, even if the board votes at their meeting later this month to overturn his termination, the district has said it’s unlikely Dennis would return to the school.
David Lane, an attorney representing Dennis, has previously called the room in question a “de-escalation room” and said that Dennis put a latch on the door in January because he was afraid someone would get hurt if a student tried to open the door and an administrator tried to close it.
DPS officials and board members have pushed back on Lane’s characterization of the room, alleging that what happened was instead “seclusion,” because children were locked in the room by themselves — a violation of district policy — until they calmed down.
DPS administrators have said there are de-escalation rooms across the district, which are used to calm children down, but students must enter voluntarily and are with an adult at all times and the door remains open.
Anderson said Friday that he received information from the McAuliffe employee that students were dragged through hallways screaming and then locked inside the room as school administrators stood outside until the children calmed down — allegations, he said, that prompted him to make a report with law enforcement.
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