DENVER - Parents of former students demanded that an external investigation be conducted into the actions of instructors at Denver School of the Arts.
The parents offered comment at the Denver Public Schools’ (DPS) board meeting to address allegations that DSA vocal and dance instructors were abusive and discriminatory against students.
“Historically the district office and board seem to provide little oversight of the happenings at DSA,” said Cari Harris, the mother of a DSA student. "We ask, 'Why when complaints go up the chain of command is there not any investigation into these claims, not even a return response that you have received the actual complaint?' Why does DSA investigate themselves?"
William Kohut, principal of DSA, said in a April 20 letter to parents that DSA and DPS completed investigations into the treatment of students after receiving multiple complaints.
“We reached out to, and received support from Denver Police as part of these reviews,” Kohut said in the letter. “When we receive an allegation that an educator is acting contrary to our core values as a school district, we take such concerns very seriously. We worked diligently with the district’s human resources team to look into every allegation raised and interviewed dozens of current and former students, staff and parents.”
Julie Johnson, a parent of a former DSA student, said her daughter was ridiculed for her minor speech impediment.
“He told her she didn’t belong at the school on numerous occasions ... My daughter witnessed the teacher mocking other students with disabilities,” Johnson said.
Two dance instructors resigned after the investigation. Two vocal department instructors, Scott Shivley and Robert Styron, were placed on administrative leave.
“Although the dance teachers resigned, we still have a systemic problem that will continue to repeat itself if nothing is done,” Harris said.
About 1,100 students attend DSA, a public secondary arts magnet school in the Denver School District. Students participate in a rigorous academic program that includes intensive classes in creative writing, dance, music, video cinema arts, visual arts and more, according to the DPS website.
“We…recognize that this year, we have faced several challenges,” said Deputy Superintendent Susana Cordova in a May 17 letter to parents.
Cordova said in the letter that DSA engaged a professional facilitator, Judy Mares Dixon, to “guide a conversation with parents, staff, students and the school leadership team at DSA.”
Cordova also said in the letter that Dixon’s role will be “to create and manage a calm, open environment of shared positive intent.”
Dates for sessions where parents can do that have not been set.