Rico Munn, superintendent of Aurora, Colo., Public Schools, makes a point during a news conference about the increase in COVID-19 cases and how parents need to enroll their children in school during the pandemic Tuesday, Sept. 29, 2020, in Denver. Munn is leaving the school district after an apparent dispute with some school board members. After a complain made by Munn, an outside investigator has determined that two Black school board members racially harassed Munn for not being “Black enough.” (AP Photo/David Zalubowski)

AURORA | Two Black members of the Aurora Public Schools board of education said former Superintendent Rico Munn was “not Black enough” and criticized him for not prioritizing the hiring of Black employees over other people of color, according to a report made by an external investigator.

Those allegations and claims of racial bias were among others in a formal complaint Munn lodged against the school board earlier this year.

A decision by an outside employment law attorney hired by the district, published earlier this month and obtained by the Sentinel, substantiated Munn’s allegations and ruled that racial bias played a factor in his contract not being renewed. The decision also sanctioned two board members, Stephanie Mason and Tramaine Duncan, for their “unlawful race discrimination.”

“Based upon a thorough review of multiple documents and testimony from many witnesses, I conclude that it is more likely than not that Mr. Munn was constructively discharged from his position as Superintendent because of his race,” the decision said. “Specifically, a preponderance of the evidence demonstrates that certain influential Board members convinced a majority of the Board to favor the non-renewal of Mr. Munn’s contract based upon their discriminatory belief that Mr. Munn failed to conform to the stereotypes of his race – i.e., that he was ‘not Black enough’ to advance the Board’s mission of hiring and retaining Black employees.”

Aurora Public Schools board meeting via Youtube June 20, 2023 SCREEN GRAB

The decision, dated June 6, was written by employment attorney and investigator Doug Hamill. In an addendum, Hamill said he was contracted by APS to conduct an investigation into Munn’s complaint as an outside party to prevent a conflict of interest.

Munn announced in December that he would not be seeking to renew his current contract, which expires at the end of the 2022-2023 school year, citing a “conflict of vision” with the school board. Munn has clashed with the board on a number of issues, particularly since the most recent school board election in November 2021, where three new members were elected.

The board members have also frequently struggled to come to a consensus among themselves. At a meeting this spring, members spoke about a lack of trust among the board and questioned whether efforts to improve things would even be worthwhile.

Four of the district’s seven school board directors — Duncan, Mason, Anne Keke and Michael Carter — are Black, as is A.J. Crabill, a consultant who has been working with the board for a number of years.

The June 6 decision letter said that Munn had enjoyed a “good working relationship” with the board until the fall of 2021, after which he began to clash significantly with Mason and Duncan for “refusing to exclusively focus on the advancement of Black people but rather focusing his attention more broadly on the Board’s written policy of the advancement of People of Color.”

Carter, Keke, board member Vicki Reinhard and interim Superintendent Mark Seglem all said in interviews that some board members had criticized Munn for what the decision letter described as him not being Black enough or not protecting Black employees.

The letter said that Keke stated that Duncan wanted Munn to “act Blacker.”

Crabill described an environment where Munn’s “Black card” was consistently called into question by some  board members, and he said that Mason was particularly critical of Munn, according to Hamill’s report.

Crabill also said that Mason and Duncan had approached him privately to seek guidance about whether or not to renew Munn’s contract, the letter said.

Director Tramaine Duncan, via Aurora Public Schools

The letter shed more light on the process that led to Munn stepping down. The report stated that in August board members met in executive session to discuss his contract, where a majority of board members were in favor of not renewing his contract. Keke and Carter opposed this decision, the letter said, and Carter told Munn about the decision and said it was “BS.”

After that, the letter said the board vacillated for about six or seven weeks as to whether to renew Munn’s contract, and then in September told him it would not be seeking a renewal. At that point, the letter said Munn began preparing a separation agreement where he would step down in December.

In a determination in the letter, Hamill wrote that he disagreed with a determination from a representative of the district’s human relations compliance officer that race was not a significant factor in the board’s decision not to seek a renewal of Munn’s contract.

Hamill agreed with findings from the APS compliance officer’s representative that there was not evidence of a race-based hostile work environment or retaliation, and that there had not been any violations of Colorado Open Meetings Law.

“The preponderance of the evidence establishes that at least two Board members – Stephanie Mason and Tramaine Duncan – believed that Mr. Munn was ‘not Black enough’ to continue serving as Superintendent,” the complaint said. “This belief is unlawful discrimination based upon Mr. Munn’s race.”

Hamill cited case law making clear that even though Munn was being harassed about his race from those of the same race, claims of racism ring true.

“It is reasonable to conclude, based upon the totality of the evidence, that this racial-stereotyping belief fueled the criticisms and ultimate demise of Mr. Munn’s tenure as Superintendent.”

The decision letter said that Duncan and Mason should be publicly reprimanded and censured and would be ineligible for serving as president, vice president, secretary, or treasurer for the remainder of their four-year terms. 

APS school board director Stephanie Mason

Mason’s term expires this fall and she has signaled that she does not plan to run again. Duncan’s first term began in fall 2021 and ends in 2025.

All board members are required to participate in five hours of equal opportunity training within 90 days and if he requests, the decision can be included in Munn’s APS personnel file.

The decision said that normally monetary damages would be appropriate, but that they were off the table because as part of his transition agreement Munn waived his right to that kind of compensation.

It also said that the letter should be “in a conspicuous space on the homepage of the APS Board’s website” within 10 days and included in the agenda of the next public meeting, neither of which had occurred by June 20, the date of the district’s last regularly scheduled business meeting of the school year.

A two-hour executive session meeting is scheduled for June 28 “for the purpose of receiving legal advice regarding a Policy AC complaint,” according to the school board’s website.

Board President Debbie Gerkin told the Sentinel Tuesday that she could not comment until after the executive session, which will be the board’s first opportunity to meet with counsel regarding the decision.

Munn officially stepped down as superintendent at the end of 2022, and he is currently serving in an advisory role until his contract expires at the end of June. He has accepted a position as Colorado State University President Amy Parson’s chief of staff beginning next month.

Michael Giles, who currently serves as the Assistant Superintendent of Equity, Culture and Community Engagement in the Cherry Creek School District, will take the reins as the next APS superintendent July 1. Giles is also Black, as were the other two named finalists for the role, Andre Wright and Nia Campbell.

Munn was the district’s first Black superintendent, and he spoke regularly throughout his tenure about the importance of providing a quality education for all of the district’s 38,000 students, over half of whom are Hispanic and about 18% of whom are Black.

He spoke less about his own personal background, but on some occasions was candid about his experiences as a Black man, including in an opinion piece he penned for the Sentinel during the summer of 2020 where he discussed the discrimination he has faced and how it shaped his outlook on life.

“I am a man,” he wrote. “I am a Black man. I am a Black man in America. I am a Black man in America who holds a position of relative authority and privilege. All of these things are true and all of these things hold meaning for me, especially at this moment in time.”

In a February 2021 article interviewing prominent Black Aurorans about Black history, Munn spoke to the Sentinel about the district’s work to recruit more teachers of color. He also said that he thought the district needed to be more explicit about the diversity work it was doing.

“We have done really good work trying to elevate voices and trying to identify and speak to key equity issues,” he said. “But we have not necessarily been as explicit about the why and the imperative around that as I think we could be and needed to be in this moment in time.”

During Munn’s tenure APS named three schools after Black community members and East Middle School band director Jimmy Day became Colorado’s first Black man to be named teacher of the year.

In an email this week, Munn said that his family was dealing with a medical issue that required the majority of his attention. He said in a statement that he was “proud to have led the most diverse team in the state as we served one of the most diverse communities in the nation.”

“Over the last ten years we created and championed efforts to support the achievement of the BIPOC, disabled and LGBTQIA communities as well as the economically, linguistically and neurologically diverse families who call APS home,” he said. “We must fight against any person or ideology that positions success as a zero sum game. In a just world there is room for all of us.”

Munn declined to speak more about the complaint. Mason said at Tuesday’s board meeting that she could not comment. Duncan was attending the meeting remotely and could not immediately be reached.

This is a developing story and will be updated.

Join the Conversation


  1. “Not Black Enough”??
    What are they even saying?? Did they want the Superintendent to be like the young thug black men committing majority of the crimes here in Aurora who are within the walls of Aurora’s High Schools? Those two other board members are as bad a Tai Anderson from DPS. He’s a freak and a bit of a nut job and now we discover we might have two Tai Anderson’s here within Aurora? Oy!! Recall them!!

    1. This posted response in and of itself is a racially charged stereotype of how people view Blacks (and Black men in this instance). Being a professional and being a Black man, regardless of how his Blackness is express, should not equate to “young thug black men” as a response; it is not at all supportive. What a way to besmirch a Black man.

      1. really? thats what youre gonna go with? this article was about the absolute horrible racist behavour by a school board , not about you trying the same old poor black man schitck! Give it a rest!!!

      2. really? thats what youre gonna go with? this article was about the absolute horrible racist behavour by a school board , not about you trying the same old poor black man schitck! Give it a rest!!!

  2. Instead of focusing on improving and enhancing the educational environment for all in the city, these dumbasses focused on divisiveness, petty politics, and race baiting.

    And to top it off, they sit on the board of “education.” Operative word here is “EDUCATION,”, something they desperately need

  3. True words that Aurora public schools must support the success of ALL students.
    To reflect the diversity in the community, the district should recruit future teachers from within their own high school graduates. Give the future teachers free college tuition with living stipends in exchange for teaching in Aurora for 10 years.

  4. “All board members are required to participate in five hours of equal opportunity training”
    Looks like Duncan and Mason five hours didn’t cut it for these two. More levels of advanced diversity training for these two and they might catch on. That is such a accommodating precedence to swear by.

    And these folks with their phony APS Blue-Print for the cities solid school groundwork. Their priorities to what is needed well here it is. And it ain’t for anything that is worthwhile for taxpayers. Sable school to be shuttered and the population of kids stuffed into Altura Elementery like sardines.
    The first thing the APS board will be asking for after they accomplish this is more money to expand for more Altura classroom seating, as they reconfigure or tear down Sable. Talk about accountability from these people, go-fish!

    1. Yes. And it was MASON who fought against blueprint and the closing of these schools. She did everything in her power to stop the destruction of these neighborhood schools.

  5. This sounds like nonsense. People don’t know the inner workings of this former superintendent and his threats and stronghold. The problem is that the superintendent and the board were and are both dysfunctional. There needs to be a clean slate of board members and a new search for a superintendent.

  6. So we have 2 Black board members accusing a Black superintendent of not being Black enough. What, exactly, does “Black enough” mean? According to the article, only 18% of APS is Black. Was he not hiring enough Black employees? If these board members are so concerned about race representation, over half of new hires should represent the Latin community. Can we just please hire the most qualified applicants and put color/race aside and stop all this nonsense?

  7. This is a joke sounds like a scapegoat excuse to me. A black superintendent was hired to replace Rico. Maybe they were calling into question his inability to retain black staff as the teachers in the district are over 85% white yet the demographics of the students is the exact opposite. Maybe they are concerned that black students are not succeeding in APS despite Rico’s phony statistics and were calling in his commitment to black students in the district. Maybe Rico isn’t confident in his own blackness and when pressed about black students became insecure because he has not done enough to support them. Interesting that the reporter didn’t reach out to either of the accused board members for comment but reached out to Rico like she had a narrative she is trying to push.

    1. Black students have underperformed in APS for decades. The ones who did well inevitably came from military or upper-middle class professional families. Their struggles are socio-economic, which comes down to parents holding their own children accountable, irrespective of their ethnic or racial background.

      If the district can only get white teachers to take the position, that’s not the fault of the teachers, and the district should be happy at this point to get anyone who’s willing to take on the Sisyphean task of educating children in such a dysfunctional environment, irrespective of their skin color.

      The school board members criticizing Munn are doing so from a position of ethnocentrism that ignores the needs of the other students in the district, the majority of whom are actually Hispanic now. If the board doesn’t straighten up and get its priorities in order, the actual ethnic majority in the district might take it upon themselves to do so. The likelihood that black kids will really be left out in the cold at that point will be quite high, as there won’t be enough white kids left (13.4% and dropping every year) to mutually scapegoat anymore.

  8. This is a lengthy article about being black enough to work in the Aurora Public School higher management level and perhaps as an APS bus driver. According to the outside investigators report it’s pretty clear around the current existing APS policies. So, let me shorten things up how APS operates its employment office goals. If you’re a white-man no need to apply cause you’re definitely not black enough.

  9. Wow, this kind of discrimination is illegal in this country. It violates Title IV of the Civil Rights Act of 1964. This man whose race is being used against him has rights – as do we all. I hope he pursues this injustice.

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