More than 200 parents, teachers and students staged a loud protest outside of McAuliffe International School early Tuesday amid fears that the district and outgoing school board will revoke McAuliffe’s reform-minded innovation status and fire several educators at Thursday’s board meeting.
“We are here today because our staff and our innovation status are under attack,” teacher Logan Keeney told protesters who were waving signs and chanting “Whose school? Our school!” and “Innovation schools are great, (Superintendent Alex) Marrero stop the hate.”
McAuliffe and other DPS innovation schools have more autonomy than regular schools to develop schedules and curriculum tailored to their students, as long as they meet district requirements. The school board earlier this year dramatically scaled back the kinds of waivers from the teachers’ contract innovation schools can get.
“Our staff and our innovation status are under attack,” Keeney said. “Why is that? When you ask anyone in the district, they will have a tough time answering it. Maybe when innovation schools perform well, and parents want to send their students there over other schools in the district; maybe when (former principal) Kurt Dennis speaks out about school safety (and is later fired) and there is an uproar from the community and no response from the district.”
Dr. Katie Rustici, a Denver physician who has two children at the Northeast Denver middle school, was a lead organizer of the morning “walk-in” rally and told the crowd that parents opted to air their grievances before the start of school rather than disrupt classes with a walkout.
She said in an earlier interview that Superintendent Alex Marrero and the school board oppose McAuliffe’s 8 a.m. optional enrichment programs prior to classes beginning at 9 a.m., which is the district’s required start time.
“We want to keep the enrichment programs because they’re popular for students and families. Students need these services,” Rustici said.
The agenda for Thursday’s 4:30 p.m. board meeting had not been released Tuesday morning. It will be the final meeting for three board members after Auon’tai Anderson chose not to seek re-election and incumbents Scott Baldermann and Charmaine Lindsay lost their reelection bids. The three new board members, who ran on a unified slate, will be sworn in next month.
DPS spokesman Scott Pribble said Tuesday afternoon that Marrero has not made a recommendation to revoke the innovation status of McAuliffe, and such action is not on Thursday’s board agenda. He said the board will vote on personnel actions but did not detail those.
“At present, there have no actions concerning MIS staff that would necessitate any board action,” he said.
“Denver Public Schools supports the rights of our staff and our students to protest in a safe and respectful manner, but we are disappointed that their protest impacted enrichment and zero hour time for their students,” Pribble said.
Protesters also expressed concern that up to seven McAuliffe staff members may be terminated by the superintendent and board at the Thursday meeting as part of the expected move to strip innovation status from the middle school.
“It’s my understanding that the district is planning to fire multiple educators for doing things they were told to do by the district,” Kenney told the crowd. “These are great people who are put in impossible situations who requested training and support from the district on multiple occasions only to be met by silence. Who kept showing up for kids day in and day out, only to be fired for no fault of their own.”
McAuliffe has been in the news for months. After the shooting at East High School last spring during a pat down, then-McAuliffe Principal Kurt Dennis told 9News that his staff also was at risk having to do pat-downs of a student who had been previously charged with attempted murder in an incident outside of school.
He did not name the student, but the superintendent fired him for violating student privacy protections.
Later, Anderson and several board members backed the termination by criticizing Dennis for overly harsh discipline in putting a student in a locked de-escalation room at school. Dennis has argued he was following district protocol and that the student was under observation until he could safely return to the classroom. Dennis has since sued the district and board in federal court over his firing.
The interim replacement principal, Micah Klaver, was put on administrative leave by the district three months ago for unspecified personnel reasons. His father, Dick Klaver, was at the rally and said his son expects to be fired later this week even though the district has not disclosed why he was put on leave.
Added Rustici: “They are basing it on an internal investigation that board members did over the summer, which was not a third-party investigation” and that would have performed more due diligence by contacting students and staff involved in the discipline practices at McAuliffe.
“There seems to be some sort of vendetta that this school board and this superintendent have against this school. It’s really frustrating to see this high-achieving middle school dismantled like this,” Rustici said.
McAuliffe International School, located at 2540 Holly Street, serves Central Park and North Park Hill neighborhoods with about 1,500 students in grades 6-8 who are 57% white, 18% Latino, 14% Black and the rest multi-race, Asian or Native American. McAuliffe placed in the top 5% of all schools in Colorado for overall test scores (math proficiency is top 5%, and reading proficiency is top 5%) in the most recent state rankings.