Breaking News
More () »

Interim principal put on leave amid McAuliffe investigation

Micah Klaver was an assistant principal under Kurt Dennis, who was fired earlier this year after speaking to 9NEWS about security concerns.

DENVER — Denver Public Schools confirmed late Monday afternoon that Micah Klaver, the interim principal at McAuliffe International School, has been placed on administrative leave.

Bill Good, a spokesman for the district, would not comment on Klaver's leave, citing employee privacy concerns. But at a news conference earlier Monday, Denver School Board Vice President Auon'Tai Anderson told reporters an anonymous whistleblower had informed him and other school board members that members of McAuliffe administration acted as a "collective" participating in the detainment and restraint of students inside a room at McAuliffe. 

“Multiple administrators would stand outside the door and hold it shut as a student would scream and destroy the room and try to get out," Anderson said at the news conference, quoting from an email from a whistleblower. "They would do this until the students tired themselves out and then possibly fall asleep from crying. This could last 30 minutes to an hour or as long as it took.”

Klaver served as an assistant principal to Kurt Dennis, the former principal at McAuliffe who was fired by the district earlier this year after expressing concerns about school safety protocols in an interview with 9NEWS.

Anderson said at a news conference Monday that a total of seven whistleblowers have come forward with concerns about a monitored seclusion room at McAuliffe, and that a state representative plans to sponsor a bill to ban such rooms at K-12 schools statewide.

Anderson said last week that he filed a report with Denver Police about the room, after recommending an investigation to ensure no students were held against their will and that no serious physical or emotional harm came to students. The McAuliffe room was modified with a lock on the door, and students were locked alone in the room, Anderson said – both against Denver Public Schools policy.

Initially, one whistleblower contacted Anderson about the room. That one whistleblower now says they speak for six more, Anderson said. 

DPS board members who've made these allegations public said they don't know the identities of any of the whistleblowers, who only communicate by e-mail. All of them say they are McAuliffe staff members, according to the board. They have declined to speak with DPS investigators who are looking into the room, Anderson said.

School board member Scott Esserman said three students of color were placed in the room during the 2022-23 school year and that one of them didn't have an Individualized Education Plan, or IEP. DPS investigators have contacted the families of affected students, according to Good.

Meanwhile, Anderson said that state Rep. Regina English, D-El Paso County, will sponsor a bill that would ban seclusion rooms in K-12 schools statewide.

At the news conference, school board secretary Michelle Quattlebaum said of the room: "It echoes a dark past that we as a nation and a community pledged never, never to revisit. We must face this horrific reality that some of the destructive mechanisms of the system we fought to dismantle still finds its way into our schools."

DPS Superintendent Alex Marrero said at the news conference that he was directed by the district's executive director of labor and employee relations and the manager of employee relations and investigations to do three things:

  1. Provide training to McAuliffe staff related to restraints and seclusion before the start of the school year next week.
  2. Review and revise school district protocols regarding staff and student access to any de-escalation room.
  3. Establish a system for ongoing monitoring.

> Watch the full news conference:

Esserman, the school board's treasurer, said the room at McAuliffe didn't follow DPS guidelines for a de-escalation room. He said DPS allows for use of de-escalation rooms under certain circumstances and that the student must go in voluntarily and be accompanied by an adult with the door open.

“We have learned what is said to have allegedly occurred at McAuliffe International School was not de-escalation, but seclusion,” Esserman said.

In McAuliffe's room, students were locked in by themselves until they calmed down. Seclusion of students isn't allowed under DPS policy, he said.

Under state law, a bill from 2022, HB22-1376, allows for the use of monitored seclusion rooms in schools as long as there's at least one window or video equipment to monitor a student at all times. The bill also states that the room must be free of items that could injure a student and that it can't be used by school staff for storage, custodial equipment or office space.

State law also allows school staff to physically restrain an emotionally charged student— as long as staffers inform parents if the restraint lasts longer than one minute.

Anderson said the three students known to have been put in the de-escalation room were students of color.

Over the weekend, an anonymous McAuliffe parent posted a letter detailing her white son's experience in the room last year.

"Our son has battled with emotional dysregulation his entire life as a result of multiple medical and developmental diagnoses," the parent writes in the letter. "He hates feeling out of control, and when this happens, he appreciates having this designated space to de-escalate and eventually return to feeling 'himself'." 

The anonymous parent, who spoke to 9NEWS on the condition of anonymity citing privacy concerns for her son, said no one from the school district contacted her before board members went public with these allegations, and said she hasn't heard from the district since. 

"I wish DPS would have taken a moment to reach out to us to learn about our situation before using it in their political agenda against the school," she wrote.

During the news conference, Marerro encouraged the parent to come forward and share her story with the district. 

"Regardless of how that was described, there's nothing in that letter that says that was OK," he said. 

The investigation into the McAuliffe "seclusion room" started after the whistleblower contacted Anderson following a town hall held with McAuliffe parents. At the town hall, parents and community members brought their concerns about the firing of Dennis.

Dennis' attorney, David Lane, told 9NEWS that the McAuliffe room is used for de-escalation and that the door latch was put in place either this year or last year and was used only once as he said psychologists were concerned that a person could accidentally get locked in with a violent kid.

"Over the last year, two students at McAuliffe were put into a de-escalation room, and that was an approved plan from their individual education plans," Lane said. "Their psychologist approved that plan. Their parents approved of that plan. Administration approved of that plan."

Marrero fired Dennis last month after Dennis told 9NEWS he was concerned about the district's requirement of daily staff pat-downs of students accused of serious crimes — up to attempted murder. 

A vote on Dennis' termination will take place at the next board meeting.

Have a tip about this or any other story? E-mail 9NEWS reporter Steve Staeger at steve@9news.com.


Before You Leave, Check This Out