An investigation has found that Nick Dawkins, who resigned last month as principal of Manual High School, violated Denver Public Schools policies about discrimination, harassment and retaliation. Wayne Vaden, an attorney representing Dawkins, says that DPS plans to issue a letter about the findings, and while he notes that he hasn't been told about the document's specific contents, he calls the investigation "incomplete" because the principal wasn't allowed to participate. "My client adamantly denies any allegations of sexual misconduct," Vaden stresses.
Meanwhile, Dawkins's hiring for an administrative position with DSST Public Schools, a charter network in the metro area, is in limbo pending the announcement of the inquiry's results. Will Jones, spokesperson for Denver Public Schools, corresponding via email, confirms that DPS conducted an investigation, divulges that Dawkins's potential rehiring at another school in the system is "confidential personnel information" and explains that "as is the case with all charter school organizations, DSST employs its own educators. Therefore, the application, interview and hiring processes are determined by DSST and are not governed by the human resources policies or procedures of Denver Public Schools."
Dawkins's March 2 resignation sparked a widespread outcry from students and members of the community. He followed it with "Why I Left Denver Public Schools," an essay shared on social media in which he said reports of a confederate flag at a Manual-Weld Central High School football game the previous September was among the factors that led to his departure.
"For weeks as this situation played out, I was targeted by those that called me a nigger and vowed to bring harm to me," Dawkins wrote, adding that in the days before he stepped down, he "learned that Denver Public Schools (DPS) did not want me to be physically present at Manual due to complaints they had received regarding a hostile work environment. I was heartbroken. In this instance, the accountability I had demanded prioritizing our students was questioned. The next day it was clear that I would not be allowed to work directly at Manual nor discuss the allegations with investigators. I began to draft a resignation letter that was intended only for senior leadership, which was subsequently shared with the public."
Dawkins could have chosen to fight for his job, he acknowledged in that essay. But in his words, "it became clear to me that I would not be able to serve without the support of my leadership team. With an ever-increasing focus on what schools and school leaders are doing wrong through allegations, public attacks and high stakes testing connected to school closure, the priority of the students I so dearly love could be quickly lost. I refuse to let that happen to the students and families of Manual."
Multiple sources who communicated with Westword subsequently revealed that staff concerns about Dawkins included allegedly inappropriate sexual and racial comments, his lack of discretion about sensitive personnel matters (including copying others on an implicit job threat to a staffer on family medical leave), and his disappearance after a meeting in which he accused DPS of compiling a secret dossier on him partly because of complaints from white women.
In a March 6 letter to parents posted on Manual's website, assistant superintendent Nicole Veltzé confirmed that the independent Employers Council (formerly Mountain State Employers Council) had conducted an investigation into "a complaint about his leadership," but stressed that Dawkins had left by his own choice, without having been put on leave. The next day, March 7, in another letter shared on Manual's site, Veltzé clarified that "more than one person" had raised concerns about Dawkins. Westword learned that this group included all five of the people on his leadership team (four women and one man), plus at least four teachers.
The investigation continued over the next several weeks, and sources tell Westword that more than twenty people were interviewed. DPS has now informed a number of those who were quizzed that Dawkins was found to have violated Denver School Board Policy GBA and GBA-R1, pertaining to "equal employment opportunity and non-discrimination" and "procedures for the investigation of employee complaints of discrimination or harassment," respectively. (Documents spelling out the specifics of these polices are accessible at the bottom of this post.)
In the meantime, Dawkins announced on his LinkedIn page that he had been hired by DSST as director of schools. That deal is not final, however: According to Heather Lamm, DSST's director of communications and marketing, "An offer was made to Nick, and the offer is now on hold pending the outcome of the investigation."
Dawkins referred Westword's questions to attorney Vaden, who said that DPS "contacted me and said the investigation was complete — that letters were going to be issued and we would get one. But my response to them was, how could this investigation be complete without getting my client's information or his complete denials?"
Vaden stresses that investigators "didn't talk to Nick Dawkins, and they didn't provide us with the allegations or tell us who made them. So we don't even know who these people are or what these allegations are. We told the investigator that we were willing to participate and wanted to give our side of any story. But the last communication we had with the investigator was over a month ago. They said they were taking a break for spring break — but now they say the investigation is complete, which I think is incredible."
Vaden adds: "Apparently the investigator decided he or she was going to complete it without the other side, and that's important — because there's a taint out there that my client has done something wrong, even though we don't even know what the allegations are. We have no clue."
Nonetheless, Vaden offers what he describes as a "general denial" on behalf of Dawkins and is especially adamant in regard to any suggestion of sexual harassment. "We don't know anything about that: who, where, when, why," he says.
Vaden says that he believes complaints about Dawkins by his leadership team were motivated by a January incident involving what the then-principal described in his essay as "a non-Manual employee and employee new to Manual" who brought "tobacco and...marijuana inside the school for a science experiment, without parent permission." Charges were filed against the teacher in the case; he was scheduled to appear in court earlier today.
"This all stems from my client reprimanding the teachers around the marijuana issue," Vaden continues. "My client was away from the building, and his management team allowed this experiment to happen, and when he found out about it, he reprimanded them. He was trying to protect the children of Manual High School, which is a drug-free zone — and that led to all the allegations against him."
A source speaking with Westword rejects this theory, noting that complaints against Dawkins covered activities over a three-year period.
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Vaden, meanwhile, shies away from threatening legal action against Denver Public Schools over the report, but argues that "it's based on a flawed investigation. It can't be one-sided. It can't be."
One final assertion from DPS's Jones: "Mr. Dawkins was given multiple opportunities to participate in the investigation and did not respond."
This story was updated at 4:47 p.m. and again at 6:09 p.m. to accommodate comments from Denver Public Schools spokesperson Will Jones.