A sudden principal termination and several shakeups leave educators puzzled

Kurt Dennis, longtime principal at McAuliffe International School at Denver Public Schools, was fired last week after he allegedly broke student privacy laws. Now, the community is rallying for his reinstatement.

It may be no surprise to you that turnover is just as prevalent among leadership as it is at the school building level. From K12 principals to superintendents, shakeups are happening across the country. And they’re happening suddenly, and sometimes maybe even wrongfully, local reports suggest.

A delayed principal firing

Last week, Denver Public Schools fired Kurt Dennis, a longtime principal at McAuliffe International School for allegedly breaking student privacy laws after he publicly addressed safety concerns “about district employees being required to check students for weapons,” Axios reports. His termination comes months after a televised interview with 9NEWS where he said that he had been requiring his school staff to perform daily pat downs on a particular student that was charged with, among other things, attempted first-degree murder and illegal discharge of a firearm.

His interview came just days after a student shot two administrators at a nearby high school, East High, during a daily pat down.

Driven by concern, Dennis and his staff sent a request to DPS to let his particular student attend online classes. The request was denied. He then asked the district to expel the student, which was also denied.

Despite law enforcement advising Dennis not to let that student return to traditional in-person learning, he told 9NEWS that district leadership insisted that the student return to the classroom.

“Our request that the student be enrolled in an online school was denied,” he said.

According to a document obtained by 9NEWS, the Student Discipline Program Manager wrote to Dennis, “As there is no evidence that [the student] was in possession of a firearm on his school grounds or at any other DPS school, the request for an extended suspension and expulsion hearing is denied. Please return the student to school.”

In response, Dennis and his staff began performing the same safety pat-downs staff members at East High had been performing on their one student, a process neither Dennis nor his staff had ever been trained to do.

“Are you mad?” 9NEWS asked Dennis.

“Yes. Frustrated,” he said. “I recognize that every student deserves an education, regardless of their state in the legal system, that kid deserves a free public education, but there is more than one way to do that.”

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Dennis’ firing has sparked controversy surrounding how the district has handled school safety since the East High shooting.

“They’re worried that speaking out will backfire on us,” Athletic Director at McAuliffe International Natalie Barrios told Chalkbeat regarding her co-workers.

Dennis wonders why the district waited so long to respond to his televised appearance.

“Waiting until the middle of July to do this was really punitive,” Chalkbeat reports. “It’s not fair to the kids or our staff. That part really bothers me. It’s one thing if you’ve got a bone to pick with me and you want me gone, but to take it out on the kids and my teachers just to me feels like it’s not a very student-centered approach.”

However, according to a letter received by Chalkbeat, DPS Superintendent Alex Marrero wrote to staff that the accusations that Dennis was terminated for going public with his concerns were “100% false.” Instead, he declared that he was removed for sharing private student information.

But parents, school staff and others throughout the community disagree. Supporters rallied outside the middle school on Tuesday advocating for Dennis’ reinstatement. Protesters chanted “BRING KURT BACK!”, and one sign read “DPS IS A MENACE FOR FIRING DENNIS.”

One member of the district also started a petition, which has received more than 5,700 signatures as of Friday afternoon, calling for his rehiring

“We, the outraged families and concerned community members, demand immediate action regarding the unjust termination of Mr. Kurt Dennis, the highly effective and respected principal of McAuliffe International School,” wrote Eve Chen, the petition’s founder. “We have had enough of the mishandling of our children’s education and safety through the inaction and poor decisions made at the board and district level.”

Leadership shakeups in Houston

In other news, newly appointed Houston ISD Superintendent Mike Miles announced this week the “reassignment” of three high school principals within the district. According to a statement, the principals at Jack Yates, Worthing and Sharpstown High Schools were informed of their reassignment through a letter sent to each school community.

While they will continue to be employed by the district, Miles expressed that they wouldn’t be reassigned to another principal position.

The district’s human resources department will instead “collaborate with them to identify alternate positions or departments that align with their skills and experience,” Click2Houston reports.

Read the full statement from Miles regarding the sudden leadership shuffle below:

Earlier today, I reassigned the principals at Jack Yates, Worthing, and Sharpstown High Schools. I informed each principal directly and sent a letter to each school community this morning.

My leadership team and I reviewed existing plans for the future of these schools and determined that new leadership was necessary to drive the kind of improvement these high schools need to start preparing their students and graduates well for the workplace and world that waits for them after high school.

We have committed to the school communities that new permanent leadership will be in place before the start of August professional development.

New principals will have the ability to fill existing vacancies, but there will not be any further staff transition on these campuses, and any campus that opted into NES-Aligned will remain part of that cohort for the 2023-2024 school year.

Micah Ward
Micah Wardhttps://districtadministration.com
Micah Ward is a District Administration staff writer. He recently earned his master’s degree in Journalism at the University of Alabama. He spent his time during graduate school working on his master’s thesis. He’s also a self-taught guitarist who loves playing folk-style music.

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