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DPS eases ban on Brandon Pryor, but restrictions remain

Denver Public Schools has informed Brandon Pryor that the ban the district imposed on him in October has been modified allowing him to speak at school board meetings and attend certain public activities at schools.

Denver attorney Andrew Ringel, representing DPS, told Pryor during the second day of a hearing in federal court that the district sent his attorney an email last month identifying what he is allowed to do differently than the original ban made in October.

“You are free to speak to the (school) board during public comment period,” Ringel said, adding that Pryor can attend school events such as athletics that are open to the public.

However, the district continues to prohibit Pryor from entering school grounds except for the schools where his children attend, and he remains banned from coaching football, although he can attend football games and other public DPS events.

Those new conditions were communicated to Pryor’s attorney via private email on Nov. 9, but Pryor was not aware of them until the court hearing Wednesday, because the email wound up in his attorney’s spam file.

Even with the modified restrictions, however, Pryor continues to ask U.S. District Judge John Kane to order DPS to affirm his free-speech rights and lift all the restrictions, a ruling that he says will help restore his reputation.

“My biggest concern is that I’m not allowed to access the school (Robert F. Smith STEAM Academy in northeast Denver) that we spent five years of our lives designing and building,” Pryor testified.

He added that the continued coaching ban is a personal blow because he has developed close relationships with student athletes.

Ringel said the original ban was changed in response to an appeal filed by Pryor’s attorney, his wife Samantha Lorraine Pryor. He said Pryor also is free to contact school board members and district administrators if he chooses to.

Pryor – who has been a regular speaker during board public comment periods for years prior to the Oct. 18 ban – said he is not sure if he will attend the next board meeting on Monday as he focuses on the court hearing this week.

Pryor is seeking a preliminary injunction from Judge Kane to lift the restrictions. The hearing began Monday and is expected to continue through the week at the downtown Alfred Arraj U.S. Courthouse.

District officials imposed the ban following what they described as Pryor’s “repeated abusive, bullying, threatening and intimidating conduct” directed at DPS administrators, including Superintendent Alex Marrero and Deputy Superintendent Anthony Smith.

Samantha Pryor called witnesses to support efforts to lift the ban, including former DPS administrator Jennifer Holladay, whose department oversaw charter schools and district-run innovation schools, which include the STEAM Academy.

Holladay testified that she clashed with Pryor many times prior to her departure from the district last year.

“I received numerous angry messages and voicemails from Mr. Pryor over the years,” she said in an email to DPS administrators and school board members shortly after learning of Pryor’s ban in October. “When in a senior leadership role, I also had to reach deep into my understanding that, as a public servant in a public school system, I had to be open to criticism – even harsh criticism.”

She said she never felt threatened by Pryor despite his harsh words, and she said in her email that “I do hope the board, staff and Mr. Pryor might locate a very different way forward, one which will preserve Mr. Pryor’s important voice and service within our system of schools.”

Denver attorney Jared Ellis, also representing DPS, questioned Holladay about her knowledge of what led to the restrictions imposed by the district given that she hasn’t been a DPS administrator for nearly a year. She acknowledged she wasn’t privy to a lot of the details but said she knew enough about Pryor’s activism and achievements to understand how his ban sent the wrong message to many parents in the Black community in northeast Denver.

Ellis continued with a line of questions suggesting that even though Holladay didn’t feel threatened by Pryor, she can’t speak for other administrators who did.

DPS is expected to call some of those current administrators to testify later this week. Attorneys for DPS and Pryor said that they hope to wrap up testimony by Friday, and Judge Kane said he will rule shortly afterwards.