Denver district investigating employee for email mocking student names

Update, Friday, March 22: The employee responsible for the email has resigned, according to a Denver Public Schools spokesperson.

The Denver school district is investigating an allegation that an employee who works in the enrollment office sent an email mocking students’ names.

The email says one of the author’s favorite parts of working in the enrollment office is “the plethora of incredibly creative names that come across our desk.”

“Please know that these have all been verified by birth certificates,” says the email, a copy of which was forwarded to Chalkbeat by a third party. “I know there are books out there, but some of our families have gone to great lengths … beyond any book.”

Denver Public Schools officials confirmed the investigation but said they could not provide details at this time because personnel information is confidential by law. Given that, Chalkbeat is not naming the employee.

In a statement, the district said it is “committed to ensuring all members of the DPS community are treated with dignity and respect.”

Chalkbeat is not publishing the email in full to protect students’ privacy. Some of the names listed in the email are traditionally African-American names. Others are more common names with unique spellings, or names that are longer than average. Some are names drawn from food or nature.

“I think my next child will be Tequila Ridgeback…what do you think?” the email says.

Of one name, the email says, “now that’s a spelling I didn’t think of.” After a set of longer sibling names, the email lists the more conventional names of the children’s parents and says of the siblings, “all three are … born right here in the U.S.A… and this is just first name.”

The email also mocks a parent’s email address that includes a misspelling of the word “sexy.” “Do you think she uses this for job applications?” the email says.

In its statement, Denver Public Schools said the district’s “policies and practices reflect our commitment to addressing matters of racism, bias, and social exclusion. It is extremely important that all of our students and their families know that students will receive the supports they need to learn and thrive in a safe and welcoming environment.”

In the email, the author claims to work for the district’s enrollment office. Denver Public Schools allows any student in the district to apply to any school, including district-run and charter schools. Families submit an online application listing up to 12 school choices, and the enrollment office runs a computer program that matches students to schools based on family preference, school priorities, and available space.

The district was set to notify families Wednesday which schools their children got into for next school year.

Denver school board member Angela Cobián, who also received a copy of the email, said she was assured the district was investigating it. If authentic, Cobián said the email illustrates “a problematic mindset, which is inexcusable and intolerable in our school district.”

“Growing up with people constantly mispronouncing and renaming me with both my first and last name, and knowing the intention behind why my parents named me what they named me, highlights the disgust I felt when I read the email,” Cobián said.