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Attorney demands DPS drop any investigation of principal who spoke to 9NEWS about safety concerns

A Denver middle school principal acknowledged he was taking a risk by speaking to 9NEWS about his concerns last month. Today we learned his concerns were valid.

DENVER — A Denver-based civil rights attorney put Denver Public Schools (DPS) on notice Friday. Should DPS move against a middle school principal who spoke to 9NEWS about safety concerns inside his school, the district can expect to be brought in front of a federal judge.

Attorney David Lane warned DPS it was treading close to a First Amendment violation in its interactions with McAuliffe International School’s Principal Kurt Dennis. Last month, Dennis told 9NEWS that DPS was forcing the staff at McAuliffe to do daily pat downs on a student charged with, among other things, attempted first-degree murder. His words came days after a high school student shot and wounded two East High administrators during a morning pat down there.

“When I saw what happened at East, I recognized the similarities and it really hit a nerve,” Dennis told 9NEWS back in March. “I think it’s important that people know, and I think it’s important that parents know. I think it’s important that school leaders speak out and say, 'This is not OK and needs to stop.'”

Lane confirmed Friday that Dennis is now under investigation for speaking to 9NEWS.

“Pursuant to him appearing on camera with you, DPS has launched a full-scale investigation of [Dennis],” Lane said.

Friday morning, Lane sent an email to the DPS superintendent as well as the DPS Board of Education. “I am informed that an investigation has been launched regarding his recent appearance on 9-News wherein he discussed the problem of violent students being permitted to attend Denver public schools,” Lane wrote.

“This is to inform you that if this Board takes any adverse employment action against him or continues to undertake a bad-faith investigation of him, we will immediately proceed into the United States District Court for the district of Colorado and seek relief against you in that venue. Any adverse employment action, including any retaliation against him, will be in clear violation of the First Amendment to the United States Constitution and long-established Supreme Court precedent. Pickering v. School Board 391 US 563 (1968),” he added.

During an interview Friday, Lane was even more blunt with DPS and its leadership. “If you touch one little principal hair on his little principal head, you’ll be in federal court explaining to a federal judge why you’re violating his First Amendment freedom of speech,” Lane said.

Dennis was unavailable for comment Friday.

A spokesperson for DPS said, in a written statement to 9NEWS, “Denver Public Schools has not seen a formal complaint, so we are not able to comment on that situation. It is our desire to have open conversations directly with the employee and their representative.”

A spokesperson for the DPS Board of Education said, also in a written statement, "Educational equity is our collective responsibility. Denver Public Schools is dedicated to providing all students the education they deserve and ensuring that their rights to privacy and a free, appropriate education are protected. The potential investigation of any employee is an operational matter and not under the purview of the Board of Education. Due to the nature of the circumstances, we cannot comment further."

If you have information on this or any other investigation you’d like us to look into, please email me at chris.vanderveen@9news.com.

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