Durango School District 9-R refuses to release information about an incident last month in which one of its employees, who was reportedly banned from Needham Elementary School, had police called on her for trespassing on school property.
District Superintendent Dan Snowberger denies the employee was banned from the school, and the Needham principal denies the incident, documented in police records, took place.
According to police records, the 911 call was made because the district’s spokeswoman, Julie Popp, was not allowed on Needham’s campus and was trespassing.
The Durango Herald asked Snowberger on Nov. 5 why Popp was banned from Needham and for a comment about the incident that took place Oct. 19.
“Ms. Popp is not banned from any campus,” Snowberger wrote in a Nov. 6 email to the Herald. “I am the only one permitted to make such restrictions in 9-R.”
The Herald also sent a copy of the police call detail report to Snowberger, which says that on the date in question, Popp was prohibited from Needham and that she “is aware she is not allowed on the property.”
According to the police call detail report and an audio recording of the call, around 5:15 p.m. Oct. 19, Needham administrative assistant Laura Mottershead called 911 to report that Popp was on school property.
Mottershead said Needham principal Jennifer McKenna directed her to call police about Popp’s trespassing.
The dispatch officer asked Mottershead if Popp knows she is not allowed at Needham and Mottershead said, “She does. She was informed.”
Mottershead told dispatch that she and McKenna would be outside the school to meet police officers.
Before law enforcement arrived, Popp left school grounds, and Mottershead called 911 again and told police dispatch that McKenna did not wish for Durango police to pursue Popp.
“I think she (McKenna) just wants to let it be,” Mottershead told dispatch in this recorded call:
Officers were also informed that Popp would “(possibly) be armed if she returns back to Needham tonight,” according to a detail report kept by the Durango Police Department.
That night, Needham was hosting a Halloween party.
The Herald asked McKenna on Nov. 2 why Popp was banned from her school.
“I have no knowledge of such an incident at Needham,” McKenna wrote in an email to the Herald on Nov. 5.
The Herald emailed McKenna the police report, which states that she directed her assistant to call 911, but McKenna has not responded, now 11 days after receiving the email with that police call report.
The Durango Police Department provided copies of the police report and audio of the dispatch call after the Herald filed an open records request under the Colorado Criminal Justice Records Act. But Cmdr. Ray Shupe declined to comment on the incident, saying it is under the jurisdiction of Durango School District 9-R.
Snowberger maintains Popp is not banned from Needham and questioned the veracity of the police report. He responded in an email:
“Your attempt to slander an individual without evidence is sad and despicable. ... I will not be threatened into providing false information about an incident to feed your desired story.
“The facts are clear. There is no police incident report, which means that despite police being sent to Needham according to the call log you have provided, no incident had taken place.”
On Monday, the Herald sent Snowberger and McKenna the audio recording of the 911 dispatch call. Neither responded.
The Herald filed a Colorado Open Records Act request on Nov. 9, seeking any records involving Popp’s ban from Needham.
On Nov. 14, Sarah Berggren, executive assistant to the superintendent, said those types of records are “confidential personnel records exempt from disclosure” and also that they constitute “education records” directly related to one or more students.
The Herald’s attorney, Steven Zansberg of Ballard Spahr LLP, wrote a letter challenging the district’s denial of the records. As of Tuesday, the district had not responded.
Several members of the Durango District 9-R Board of Directors, as well as the Needham Elementary Parent Teacher Organization, said they are unaware of the situation.
Popp, the school district’s public information officer, has not responded to requests for comment.