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DPS board vice president reacts to results of investigation into former McAuliffe principal

Auon'tai Anderson said he wants to "turn the page" after the DPS board fired Kurt Dennis as principal of McAuliffe International School.

DENVER — Auon'tai Anderson, vice president of the Denver Public Schools (DPS) Board of Education, said Thursday he wants to move forward and focus on other topics now that the district's investigation into Kurt Dennis, former principal of McAuliffe International School, is complete.

Earlier this week, the attorney for Dennis shared with 9NEWS the results of an investigation into monitored seclusion rooms at McAuliffe. That investigation found there was evidence that the seclusion rooms for students violated DPS policy. It did not, however, back up board members' public claims that students were treated differently based on their race.

"Mr. Dennis has shared his closure letter," Anderson said. "The case is closed into Kurt Dennis. He was fired, he was guilty of what the whistleblowers accused him of and now it's an opportunity for us as a district to turn the page, move forward, and no longer allow this situation to loom over our heads."

Dennis spoke to 9NEWS in March about DPS employees being forced to do weapons pat-downs without proper training and students charged with attempted murder being put back in class. The district decided to fire Dennis in July. His termination was formalized with a school board vote last week.

As the board faced public pressure over Dennis' firing, they turned to new allegations that McAuliffe used a seclusion room for out-of-control students in a way that didn't meet DPS standards.

But the man known as "Brother Jeff" feels differently. Jeff Fard is a community leader in Five Points and the host of Thursday's press conference at the Brother Jeff Cultural Center. But, Fard is something else as well.

"I'm also a parent of a McAuliffe student under Kurt Dennis' leadership," Fard said.

Fard questions why exactly Dennis was dismissed.

"I still believe that Kurt Dennis was fired for being a whistleblower," Fard said.

He believes Dennis was terminated for talking to 9NEWS in March.

"I believe Kurt believed that he was sounding the alarm for safety making a call for putting greater attention on dynamics that people didn't know of," Fard said.

Fard does not support the idea of seclusion rooms. He said that practice is wrong, but he also believes the investigation into Dennis using seclusion rooms is a diversion that only surfaced after the process to fire Dennis was already started.

"They got you focusing this way when the problem was are your children, your family members, your administrators safe?" Fard said.

Denver Public Schools' human resources interviewed three students and 24 witnesses for the district investigation. They also looked at emails, meeting notes and Dennis' media interviews.

While the investigation found that Dennis directed school staff to put students in two seclusion rooms without proper supervision, it also found insufficient evidence that Dennis "treated the student complainants or impacted party differently based on their race, color or national origin as it relates to placement in rooms 115 and 121E for the purposes of seclusion."

Anderson maintained Thursday that the district knows of four students involved and said all of them are students of color.

"It goes to that fact that nobody at one point said Mr. Dennis was going through a hallway and saying, 'You, you're coming to this room because of your race,'" Anderson said. "Unfortunately, we have seen a pattern of discrimination, that folks outside of the district have labeled as discrimination when it comes to identifying students with affective needs and also learning differences, particularly at this school."

Fard is African American.

"The initial firing had nothing to do with what DPS is discovering now, but it's also an indictment of the entire system," Fard said.

>Watch the full news conference with Anderson in the video player below: 

David Lane, the attorney for Dennis, said Thursday that Dennis will give Anderson and DPS another chance to talk about the situation in front of a federal judge in early September.

Anderson said that to his knowledge, there are 32 rooms within DPS dedicated for de-escalation and that he has visited several of them and found they were vastly different from what he saw at McAuliffe International School.

"I am committed to reaffirming our policy on banning seclusion. It's very clear that seclusion is banned," Anderson said. "There is no misinterpreting or allowing the reader to interpret their own views on seclusion. It's very clear what is permitted and what's not permitted."

The 33-page report from DPS, which included witness testimony and statements from those impacted, is sealed due to attorney-client privilege.

Investigations by the Denver Police Department and the Colorado Department of Education into what happened at McAuliffe International School are ongoing. Dennis' attorney has said he plans to file a lawsuit over his firing.

When asked if McAuliffe International School is better off without Dennis, Fard said Dennis was successful in establishing academic growth for minority students. 

"Is it better or worse with Kurt Dennis gone? Consistency is gone," Fard said. "McAuliffe is now experiencing what it's like to have inconsistency."

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