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Denver charter school administration suspended after playground fight video goes public

Posted at 11:39 PM, May 25, 2018

DENVER -- The administration of a Denver charter school has been suspended after disturbing video of a playground fight went public. Now, Denver police are investigating the teacher who appears to encourage the girls to throw punches.

The April 20 video shows a group of girls at Wyatt Academy in an argument that escalated quickly. The restorative justice officer in the video appears to be smiling and laughing and can be heard at one point in the video saying, "Is anyone, like, going to hit anyone or is this just going to be a…"

To which, a child yelled, "people are going to start hitting," before the violence escalated.

Community activists said the real story isn't the fight, but the fact that three little girls received Denver Police citations for public fighting, while the school took no action against the teacher for a month — until the video went public.

"This whole time this is escalating, he never calls for anybody," said H Soul Ashemu, with Our Voice Our Schools, which released the video to try to initiate action from the school or the Denver Public School District.

Denver Public School released a statement Friday afternoon saying it is investigating and that they are "deeply troubled by the video."

We are deeply troubled by the video of what happened at Wyatt Academy on April 20. At DPS, we are committed to ensuring that every student is educated in an environment that is physically and emotionally safe and secure and that protects their human dignity. We saw that video for the first time on May 17. DPS immediately informed Wyatt of its concerns with the actions of the Wyatt employee depicted in the video, and the DPS employee who initially received the video filed a report with the Denver Police Department.

Based on reports from DPS staff and others, the Denver Police Department opened an investigation into the actions of Wyatt employees on May 22 and has assigned a detective to the case. DPS and Wyatt Academy are fully cooperating in that investigation. DPS continues to carefully monitor the situation.

DPS reminds that any student who wants to anonymously report behavior that concerns them should use the Safe2Tell Colorado tip line at 877-542-7233.

Denver Police have also opened an investigation into the incident.

Wyatt Academy has now suspended the elementary school principal, assistant principal, school psychologist and the man in the video, who is the restorative justice coordinator.

In a statement, a spokesperson for the charter allege the incident was brought up to the school board, adding that "a more thorough investigation has proven necessary."

An incident occurred on the Wyatt Academy playground on Friday, April 20. Wyatt administrators first learned about it that day, and soon after it was brought to the attention of the Wyatt board. Wyatt conducted an initial investigation which answered some questions, but a more thorough investigation has proven necessary. Accordingly, Wyatt is in the process of engaging an external investigator who will be able to answer the remaining questions and provide the information needed to fully resolve the situation.

Several Wyatt employees have been placed on administrative leave pending the conclusion of the investigation. In addition, Wyatt is cooperating fully with Denver Public Schools and the Denver Police Department regarding this incident.

Wyatt wants to ensure that all its students, families, and employees are able to learn and work in a safe, secure, and welcoming environment. Anyone who has information about this incident or any concerns should direct them to the acting school director, Jennie Klein.  In addition, everyone is welcome to anonymously report concerns using the Safe2Tell Colorado tip line at 877-542-7233.

The citation against the three girls were dropped this week, but Ashemu called it a perfect example of the preschool-to-prison pipeline, turning playground fights into criminal charges.

"This is a systemic issue. It doesn't just rest with this particular individual," Ashemu said. 

He is asking DPS to pull Wyatt's charter and investigate the impact charter schools are having on Denver's underserved Northeast neighborhoods.