DPS has banned a co-founder of its HBCU-style high school from campus and terminated his volunteer role

The district said Brandon Pryor’s actions and language were abusive, threatening and inappropriate in a letter it sent to him this week. He called it a violation of his First Amendment rights.
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Brandon Pryor speaks to a reporter after Lisa Calderón held her first rally following as a mayoral candidate. City Park, Oct. 17, 2018.
Kevin J. Beaty/Denverite

Denver Public Schools (DPS) has banned Brandon Pryor, co-founder of Robert F. Smith STEAM Academy (RFSS), from attending events and entering most school buildings, and terminated his role as DPS volunteer and football coach.

The letter DPS sent Pryor Tuesday cites "repeated abusive, bullying, threatening, and intimidating conduct directed at staff of the Denver Public Schools" as the reasoning behind the ban. The letter calls the language "inappropriate," "harmful" and in violation of DPS policies.

Denverite obtained the letter through an open records request and, in its response, DPS included numerous screenshots of Pryor's text messages, social media posts and other interactions, many of which call for resignations and firings and some of which include expletives and strong language toward school officials and other involved community members.

In one social media message interaction, Pryor allegedly wrote "WHEN I SEE YOU YOU ARE GOING TO HAVE A PROBLEM." He continued "I swear on my kids. Wait til I see you."

When reached by phone Friday, Pryor declined to comment. A student-organized protest at Smith Academy in support of him is planned for later today.

Pryor has been a steady, vocal presence at DPS meetings about how he believes the district needs to do more for Smith Academy, a new school that opened in 2021 aimed at serving students of color in the style of Historically Black Colleges and Universities (HBCU).

Both Pryor and his wife and fellow school co-founder, Samantha Pryor, posted publicly on Facebook about the ban. Brandon Pryor called it a "retaliation tactic" and an attempt to infringe on his First Amendment right to free speech.

"They thought I was gonna be quiet???" he wrote on Facebook Thursday.

Samantha posted Wednesday that the district's ban "is EGREGIOUS and clearly retaliation against Brandon for speaking up against DPS and engaging in his first amendment free speech rights!" She continued to say "Brandon has spent the last five years tirelessly serving and advocating for our children and community."

She's received numerous comments in support of Brandon, who was also involved in efforts to reopen Montbello High.

The letter comes after weeks of controversy over Smith Academy's school building.

The school shares a converted office building with Montbello Career and Technical High School (MCT). Smith Academy advocates, including Pryor, say the site isn't what the DPS promised, and that it lacks vital necessities, including a kitchen for hot meals, a library and a gym that can host competitions. Smith Academy advocates hope that the school will have their own sports teams in time, but that would require a proper gymnasium.

"Nothing about this is equitable," Pryor said at a DPS meeting in September. "If you don't know how to create equity for Black students, do what you're doing for the white ones."

Superintendent Alex Marrero issued a letter Tuesday responding to the complaints. He said that 38 DPS schools lack kitchens and use meal deliveries and warming tables, and that DPS has dedicated a multi-use space in the building for books and resources. He also said students can participate in regional sports programs and at Montbello High School once the regional program dissolves in 2024, and that a request for an athletics program is under consideration by the Colorado High School Activities Association.

Dr. Alex Marrero, who was chosen by Denver Public Schools to be its new superintendent, speaks to South High School students after a press conference announcing his appointment on Wednesday, May 26, 2021.
Jenny Brundin/CPR News

Marrero also noted that because of the school's small student body and enrollment agreements when the school was formed, Smith Academy has the second-highest per pupil funding among DPS high schools. The letter says the initial class consists of 60-70 students, but is funded at a level for 100 students.

Advocates say it's not enough. When Smith Academy was first planned, the district promised them their own facility that could accommodate the school.

According to reporting by Chalkbeat, district staff said they looked for a different building for Smith Academy and couldn't find one, and that advocates are focusing too much on the building. The district originally planned to close MCT to make more space for Smith Academy in the original building, a solution neither school supported. Thursday night, Marrero changed his recommendation and DPS decided to keep MCT open.

"It's a beautiful building, but it's not a school building," Samantha Pryor said at the September meeting. "That is what you all promised to do as a board. Not sneak us into a co-located situation and then close the school [MCT] and try to make us stay there.

According to the letter sent to Pryor, an unnamed DPS school principal brought allegations that prompted the district's investigation.

DPS' investigation cites many of Brandon Pryor's Facebook posts, many of which include calls by name for resignations of DPS staff, complaints about school food and allegations of racism.

The letter also references comments made by Pryor on Brother Jeff's podcast telling people not to enroll students, and claims by a principal that he referred to her as a "plantation builder," among other names.

The examples cited by the investigation date back to 2020, and include prior complaints and information from similar investigations in February of 2022 and November 2021. One investigation quoted text messages with a DPS staff member that included strong language, and reports of alleged comments such as "I'm going to make sure that you're fired," and "If you come after me, I'm coming after you."

Both previous investigations determined that Pryor had engaged in unprofessional behavior.

In addition to banning Pryor from DPS buildings, the letter also retracts an exception he received to the district's background check policy due to a previous felony conviction and misdemeanor assault charges. The retraction prevents Pryor from volunteering and coaching in the future.

DPS has also banned Pryor from attending board meetings and public comment sessions for the 2022-2023 school year. He can still submit written comments, call and email school board members, attend public events and enter buildings and events at the schools his children attend. Pryor has 30 days to submit an appeal.

This article has been updated to clarify references to MCT and that some messages provided to the district were sent to non-DPS staffers.

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