Denver Public Schools’ incoming superintendent Alex Marrero sued over COVID-19 response

Alex Marrero, who is set to be confirmed as Denver Public Schools’ new superintendent next week, is named in a federal lawsuit that alleges he and other members of the New Rochelle, N.Y., school district “wrongly silenced” and retaliated against the former medical director during the pandemic.

Dr. Brooke Balchan alleges that she was sidelined during the district’s response to COVID-19, when New Rochelle had one of the worst outbreaks in the U.S. in March 2020.

The lawsuit, filed Friday in U.S. District Court in New York, names Marrero, the City School District of New Rochelle and other top leaders in the school district.

Denver Public Schools announced on Wednesday their choice of Marrero, whose appointment must be confirmed June 3 by the Denver Board of Education.

Denver School Board member Tay Anderson said Friday he was unfamiliar with the lawsuit or any other possible complaints against Marrero, but was interested to learn more. The rest of the school board, along with a Denver Public Schools representative, did not return messages seeking comment.

Marrero could not immediately be reached, and New Rochelle School District representatives did not return messages seeking comment.

In the lawsuit, Balchan said she “feels humiliated and is concerned that her reputation and standing as Medical Director for the District is forever tarnished. The damages to her department’s structure may be irreparable.”

She alleges retaliation by being “excluded from meetings, assigned new roles without discussion or additional compensation; given last minute directives; had her medical judgment dismissed or ignored; experienced humiliation in front of others and intimidation by District legal counsel, with threats of insubordination; and her medical leave request was mismanaged.”

Balchan claims Marrero made a last-minute decision to use a student health-screening platform that was different from the one she recommended and without consulting her. He is also accused of making other last-minute decisions to keep certain school programs operating in-person rather than closing for several weeks in November 2020.

In January 2021, Marrero allegedly detailed a plan to transport school staff to receive the vaccine, despite Balchan’s warnings it would be illegal because New York hadn’t yet given non-medical staff priority, the complaint said. That vaccination site was ultimately shut down, the district employees’ appointments canceled and the hospital involved was fined. The complaint alleges the school district’s administration took steps to “silence her indefinitely by illegally preventing her from returning to her position.”

After the incident, Marrero wrote a note to the school community, saying he was disappointed to learn about what he called an unexpected cancellation, according to a report from The Journal News newspaper.

Marrero was the interim superintendent at New Rochelle for less than a year. The 38-year-old native of the Bronx previously served as assistant superintendent of the East Ramapo Central School District in New York. He’ll have to guide the Denver district, which has about 90,000 students, back into a sense of normalcy after the pandemic upended instruction starting in March 2020, as well as deal with a projected 6% drop in enrollment by 2025.

Marrero beat out two other finalists for Denver’s top position: Andre Wright, the chief academic officer at Aurora Public Schools, and Stephanie Soliven, assistant superintendent of secondary leading and learning at Brevard Public Schools in Florida.

At a news conference Wednesday, Marrero reflected on his improbable journey from a young boy lost in America’s largest education system to leading the largest school district in Colorado.

This is a developing story and will be updated. 

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