Denver school board knew of child abuse conviction before appointing new board member

Originally posted on Chalkbeat by Eric Gorski on April 13, 2016

The Denver school board knew about parent activist MiDian Holmes’ decade-old misdemeanor child abuse conviction before appointing her to fill a vacant seat representing northeast Denver, district officials confirmed Wednesday.

District officials unearthed Holmes’ record in a standard criminal background check and shared it with board members, Denver Public Schools spokeswoman Nancy Mitchell said.

With that information in hand, a board member asked the nine finalists during a public interview session on April 7 to notify the board liaison of anything in their background that might embarrass the board if they were to be appointed, Mitchell said.

The next day, Holmes said, she contacted the district wishing to describe the circumstances of her 2006 conviction. She said it stemmed from her two-year-old daughter wandering out of their apartment, being found by a neighbor and police being called.

Holmes, 35, a longtime activist and parent of three DPS children, told Chalkbeat she intends to join the board as planned. She is set to be sworn in Monday.

“I do recognize that things are a bit tarnished, and I have a lot of work to do to be a part of that trust I truly believe in,” Holmes said, adding that she is committed to transparency. “It’s going to be a difficult road. It’s going to be tough. But every tough situation, every tough day that comes, is 100 percent worth it. The kids in Denver and the kids in District 4 are worth it.”

Holmes’ criminal record was first reported by FOX31 in Denver. Neither DPS board members nor district officials revealed anything publicly about the abuse conviction until it was in the news. The board is to meet Thursday afternoon in a previously unscheduled closed session to get advice on unspecified legal questions.

The disclosure of Holmes’ criminal record sent DPS officials scrambling to answer questions about when the district learned of it, how and what if any information could be gleaned from public records about the circumstances of the case.

In 2006, Holmes was charged and pleaded guilty to a negligent child abuse charge with no injuries, according to court documents reviewed by The Denver Post, a Chalkbeat news partner. No details of the incident were immediately available in records.

In her application for the volunteer school board post, Holmes replied “no” when asked whether she had ever been convicted of a felony or a Class A misdemeanor — the latter of which does not exist in Colorado. Mitchell said the question is supposed to be about a Class 1 misdemeanor, the most serious kind. Holmes’ conviction involved a Class 3 misdemeanor.

Holmes described the incident like this: A single mother of three young children under 10 at the time, Holmes was getting ready for work. After getting out of the shower, she found her two-year-old daughter missing and the door ajar.

Panicked, Holmes rushed outside and encountered a neighbor who had found the little girl and taken her to the apartment complex’s leasing office. By the time Holmes arrived, the police had already come and taken her daughter away.

Holmes said she represented herself in court because she didn’t qualify for a public defender and couldn’t afford an attorney. She said she pleaded guilty because she wanted to “move forward and get back to raising my family.”

At the April 7 meeting, board member Rosemary Rodriguez, who represents southwest Denver, urged the finalists for the vacant seat to come forward with any embarrassing information. But Holmes said that was not what prompted her to contact the district.

“I don’t want to be distraction for District 4,” she said. “I don’t want the board to have regrets after all the work they’ve done. I wanted to make sure they have the information to make an informed decision.”

The board appointed Holmes on Tuesday.

Mitchell said that to her knowledge, the board only had Holmes’ account to go on in making a decision about how to handle it.

“Since she proactively engaged with us and told us about this and has clearly been an active member of our parent community, she was appointed,” Mitchell said. “She is very active. To us, that is the most important thing — the care and concern she has for her own kids and DPS kids.”

DPS board chairwoman Anne Rowe released a statement Wednesday evening. “At no time did Ms. Holmes inaccurately respond to questions on the board member application or questionnaire,” it said.

Holmes works as a regional operations manager at Randstad Technologies, a nationwide staffing organization. She’s the mother of three DPS students: two attend George Washington High School, which is district-run, and one goes to DSST: Green Valley Ranch, a charter school.

Holmes joined the school reform advocacy group Stand for Children in 2009 and was an active volunteer parent leader for several years. She currently sits on two district committees, including one that is crafting a request for a tax increase this fall.

Stand for Children Colorado Executive Director Jeani Frickey Saito said that given how what transpired was described, Holmes shouldn’t be disqualified from either representing the organization or serving on the school board.

“As a parent, I could relate to the circumstances she shared with me,” Frickey Saito said. “I think it’s probably a situation that all too many people find themselves in, and I didn’t feel like it showed any lack of judgment.”

Holmes was chosen to represent DPS District 4, a large geographic area that includes older city neighborhoods such as Whittier and Cole and newer areas such as Stapleton. The district also includes the neighborhoods of Montbello and Green Valley Ranch, which are arguably home to Denver’s most ambitious and controversial school turnaround efforts.

Twenty-two candidates initially applied to fill the vacant seat on the seven-member board. Last month, the board members narrowed the field to 10 finalists, one of whom withdrew. She’ll replace Landri Taylor, who resigned in February.

Last November, voters elected three pro-reform candidates — two incumbents and one newcomer — making it so all seven seats on the governing board of the state’s largest district were occupied by members who support strategies such as paying teachers based on performance and closing chronically struggling schools.

Denver Post reporter Elizabeth Hernandez contributed information to this report.

Chalkbeat Colorado is a nonprofit news site covering educational change in public schools.

Photo credit: Stand for Children

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