The principal of Denver’s biggest high school has retired after an investigation into how school district officials handled complaints about the actions of the school’s cheerleading coach found principal Andy Mendelsberg “did not take the necessary steps to ensure that the physical and emotional health and safety of the students on the cheer team was fully protected,” according to a letter from Superintendent Tom Boasberg.
Former East principal John Youngquist is leaving his administrative position with Aurora Public Schools to return to Denver to lead the school.
East is the most-requested high school in Denver Public Schools. The 2,500-student school is known for its comprehensive academic program, as well as its breadth of sports and extracurricular activities.
Mendelsberg’s exit coincides with the conclusion of an independent investigation commissioned by DPS.
Mendelsberg had been on leave since August, when 9News first aired videos that showed East cheerleaders being forced into the splits position while teammates held their arms and legs and former coach Ozell Williams pushed them down.
The parents of at least one cheerleader who was injured by the practice emailed a video to the East High athletic director in mid-June asking “what the administration is going to do about my daughter’s injury and how it happened,” according to emails provided to 9News.
After the 9News story broke two months later, Williams was fired.
Mendelsberg, athletic director Lisa Porter, assistant cheer coach Mariah Cladis and district deputy general counsel Michael Hickman were put on leave while an outside law firm hired by DPS investigated what happened, who knew about it and how they responded.
The Denver police also launched an investigation.
Mendelsberg had been principal since 2011. But he’d worked at East much longer as a teacher, softball coach, dean of students, athletic director and assistant principal, according to a story in the Spotlight alumni newsletter published in 2012.
Youngquist preceded Mendelsberg, having served as principal of East from 2007 to 2011. He left the school to take a districtwide position leading the recruitment and development of DPS principals. In 2013, Aurora Public Schools Superintendent Rico Munn hired him to be that district’s chief academic officer, a job he’s held until now.