Supporters rallied in front of McAuliffe International School on Tuesday to call for the return of its former principal, Kurt Dennis.
Parents, staff, and former students showed up with signs and chanted “BRING KURT BACK!”, pleading for Denver Public Schools to reinstate the popular educator who had been the school's only principal since it opened. Denver City Councilman-elect Darryl Watson and several DPS School Board candidates also attended.
“I'm pretty upset about this to be honest, I see Kurt Dennis as a tremendous leader here at this school. He's a big reason why we chose to come to this school,” said Katie Rustici, who has lived in the community for 15 years and is a parent to children going into the sixth and seventh grades.
DPS fired Dennis last week after leading the district’s largest middle school for the last 12 years. In a termination letter, DPS said he was fired for allegedly violating student privacy laws by expressing concerns about school safety during an interview with 9News.
During the interview, Dennis said he was notified of a student who was charged with attempted murdered. He was told that the student was to receive daily pat downs, but Dennis suggested an extended suspension, remote learning options or expulsion. The interview came after shootings at Denver East High School. One shooting injured two administrators, and the district has drawn criticism over its transparency and general handling of safety policies.
Dennis’ impact on the school was on full display during Tuesday’s demonstration. Cecilia Pablo, a former student who is now a paraprofessional at the school, spoke about how “Great-Uncle Kurt” was more than just a principal.
“I have seen him help many families grow into outstanding people and provide others with countless opportunities. One of those families is my very own,” Pablo said. “He has been there for my mom in countless ways. But the biggest one is helping her build a career for herself so she could be successful and support her family. Kurt has been a mentor for my dad and has never let him down.”
Pablo went on to become the first college graduate in her family after attending McAulliffe. Her mother, Natalie Barrios, rose from being a teen mother to working as the school’s athletic director with over 20 years of experience in education.
Shemar Magee also described how Dennis impacted his life as a student. He attended McAulliffe when it first opened in 2012. He went on to graduate from DSST: Cole High School in 2019 and finished his degree at the University of Denver earlier this year. Magee thought it was an upsetting situation when he heard that Dennis was terminated.
“I think it's just messed up that they fired him without very much notice or concerns that are valid. Especially with the talk about increasing police in schools and how that would affect students of color,” said Magee, who begins work on a Master’s in Clinical Health and plans to be a clinical therapist. “I think having concerns and bringing them up helps create more discourse about how we can make safety in schools.”
Former Denver mayoral candidate and Tattered Cover CEO Kwame Spearman helped organize the rally. Spearman, who is running for the DPS School Board, says the rally was the first of many conversations in trying to reinstate Dennis.
“This was not a community decision. This did not come from the community. This was not discussed with the community. And our goal now is to focus on our students. Our students are now without a leader,” Spearman said.
Dennis is in the process of filing a lawsuit against DPS. His attorney, David Lane, claims he was fired for voicing his concerns.
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