If the allegations against former McAuliffe Principal Kurt Dennis are true, then I will issue a mea culpa. Dennis, the beloved principal who was unceremoniously let go very soon after publicly critiquing the Denver school board, now stands accused, by the board, of confining students to a locked detention room for lengthy periods of time.
Through his attorney, Dennis says such “de-escalation rooms” are an accepted tool for addressing problematic students.
Part of the school board’s accusation is framed around an argument about identity, that Dennis disproportionately confined students of color. For me, that argument inherently doesn’t land, because arguments that center on “disproportion” avoid looking at underlying issues. Sometimes certain groups are overrepresented — and yes, this can be the result of human bias, but it may also be a reflection of the facts on the ground. Without investigation, to automatically equate “overrepresentation” with “unfair” is not intellectually honest.
However, even if there is no bias involved, I fundamentally oppose this disciplinary measure.
I was shocked when I found out about school staff searching the bags of students known to have possessed firearms, and I am shocked that physically isolating students in this way is considered OK. Calling this a “de-escalation room” versus solitary confinement is a distinction without a difference.
If I generally oppose what is now euphemistically called “administrative segregation” in prisons, how could I support it for middle or even high schoolers? How is this considered an improvement upon a sharp rap of a ruler across the knuckles? If a student needs a time out to the point of being shut into a room alone, is a traditional school the right place for that student?
According to McAuliffe, these rooms are part of individual educational plans (IEPs) agreed upon by staff and parents, used for students with significant development or behavioral disabilities. This is not my field, but I wonder whether such students would be better served at schools that are holistically better equipped to handle such special needs.
All this said, I’m suspicious of the board’s concern. Does it make an iota of sense that the board’s original termination failed to mention what the board is now saying were Dennis’ dastardly methods?
If the accusations against Dennis are true, he must be held responsible; but with this school board’s record, its recent salvo stinks of the deflection and retaliation for which is has become infamous.
Shana Goldberg may be reached at [email protected].
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