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DPS loses again in federal court in its legal battle against Brandon Pryor

A federal judge has rejected Denver Public Schools’ request to delay his recent order that the district immediately lift restrictions against critic Brandon Pryor, criticizing DPS officials as sore losers in their legal case against Pryor.

“(DPS officials) attempt to portray themselves as victims are negated by the thoughtlessness of their censorious behavior,” wrote U.S. District Judge John Kane in his ruling this week.

Kane reaffirmed his previous order that the district violated Pryor’s free speech rights when it imposed a series of restriction against him, dismissing the DPS argument that his prior ruling encouraged Pryor and others to “harass, threaten and bully” school employees.

“(District officials) are correct that DPS has a legitimate interest in protecting its employees from bullying and harassment, but that interest cannot extend to running roughshod over the constitutional rights of an individual citizen,” he wrote in his 14-page ruling. He added: “They do not tie this supposition (that his ruling encourages others to make threats) to any facts, and thus it is not a proper basis for granting a stay.”

Denver Public Schools did not respond Wednesday to a request for comment.

The case dates back to October, when DPS banned Pryor from attending school board meetings, contacting board members and administrators, coaching football and visiting the STEAM Academy in far Northeast Denver that he co-founded. District officials cited a pattern of “harassment, bullying, intimidation and threats” by Pryor against administrators in imposing the ban.

The district modified the restrictions against Pryor in November, allowing him to attend board meetings and contact district officials. But DPS continued banning him from coaching football and from visiting the STEAM Academy.

In an interview Wednesday, Pryor called the ruling “an exciting win,” citing Kane’s sharp criticism of DPS administration.

”It looks bad for them,” he said. “The court of appeals is also going to slap them down,” referring to DPS’ pending appeal.

Pryor said he has been spending most of his time at the STEAM Academy in far Northeast Denver that he helped start, working with families to prepare for a move next fall to the vacant Barrett Elementary near 29th Avenue and Colorado Boulevard. He said he hopes the district will help the students with transportation to the new site as was discussed at a recent School board meeting.

In its 23-page motion filed in January, DPS asked Kane to suspend his original order, arguing that the judge is interfering with the district’s independent oversight of schools and threatening school safety by usurping the district’s rules for school visitors and volunteers and encouraging others to harass district employees.

DPS attorney Andrew Ringel wrote: “In these days of school shootings, bomb threats and disruption of school facilities throughout the United States, DPS must be able to determine appropriate rules for access to schools and other district facilities.”

Kane agreed that the district is responsible for protecting school safety, but he found no legal reason presented by DPS witnesses or other evidence submitted during the original seven-day hearing in December that justifies muzzling Pryor.

“(DPS) may still act to legitimately protect DPS employees, students and community members … If (DPS) exercise the requisite thoughtful consideration, no irreparable harm should result from the limited preliminary injunction” that he granted to Pryor in December.

DPS has appealed his order to the Denver-based U.S. 10th Circuit Court of Appeals. A date has not been announced.

If the appeal is rejected by the higher court, DPS will be ordered to lift restrictions on Pryor and comply with the rest of Kane’s ruling.

That also would pave the way for Pryor to press his lawsuit seeking undetermined financial damages against the district, alleging that his rights were violated and his reputation harmed by the ban and ensuing publicity.