DENVER — A Denver Public Schools investigation into the use of a “seclusion room” at McAuliffe International School found employees, including former principal Kurt Dennis, violated district policy by placing students in at least two rooms without proper supervision and either locked the doors or held them shut to prevent them from leaving.
The findings from the district’s internal investigation, made public during a news conference Thursday, come four weeks after three DPS board members revealed the district would be investigating what whistleblowers called an “incarceration room” at the school, where students of color were allegedly locked from the inside by themselves during the 2022-2023 school year.
The allegations, first brought to the attention of the district at the beginning of the month, came about a month after Dennis was fired by the district for allegedly sharing confidential student information in violation of state and federal laws. Dennis has claimed he was fired after coming forward back in March to criticize the district over safety concerns at the school, particularly daily pat downs of some students – the same protocol that led up to the shooting at East High School earlier this year that left two deans injured and ended with the death of a student hours later.
“Everything the whistleblower(s) alleged Mr. Dennis of doing to these students has been corroborated,” said DPS Board Vice President Auon’tai Anderson during Thursday’s news conference, adding the district has since learned of an additional room at McAuliffe (Room 115) that was also used for seclusion purposes.
The allegations from the whistleblowers, which the district made public on Aug. 7, came from a group of staff members at McAuliffe, who claimed students of color “were quite literally dragged through the school screaming down the hallway” and locked inside Room 121E from the outside, with locks also placed on the windows of the room to prevent students from leaving. The use of these rooms for seclusion purposes — which violate district policy — started on or around Nov. 18, 2022, and continued through the end of the academic year, according to a summary of the investigation’s findings provided by Anderson.
DPS votes in support of district’s firing of former McAuliffe School principal
The district’s investigation found Dennis either used – or directed staff to use – these two rooms to put students there without proper supervision and once inside, either locked the door or held them shut so that students would be prevented from leaving.
It also found that Dennis either used – or directed staff to use – these rooms “despite being aware that at least one of the rooms, which was damaged during the course of the school year, was not safe or appropriate for this purpose.”
It did not, however, find sufficient evidence to say that Dennis placed students in the rooms because of their race, color or national origin.
Our Denver news partners reached out to Dennis and his attorney for comment but have yet to hear back.
The former principal, who is now suing the district in response to his firing, has defended his actions, telling The Denver Post in early August that both the room and the method in which students were disciplined was “district-sanctioned.” His attorney has also previously said Dennis didn’t violate any DPS policies and called the room “a much more humane approach than having a student arrested.”
Dennis previously told the Post only two students — a Black child and a white child — were placed in the room, but the district’s internal investigation found at least four children – three of whom spoke to investigators – were placed in the rooms. All were students of color, per the summary of the findings.
In all, 24 witnesses were interviewed during the investigation, with Dennis himself being provided with “multiple opportunities” to participate in the investigation, but who ultimately declined to do so, according to Anderson.
The allegations into the use of the rooms for seclusion purposes have also led to three separate investigations involving the Denver Police Department, the Colorado Department of Education, and the Denver chapter of the NAACP.
Those investigations are still ongoing.