• Original Reporting
  • Sources Cited
Original Reporting This article contains new, firsthand information uncovered by its reporter(s). This includes directly interviewing sources and research / analysis of primary source documents.
Sources Cited As a news piece, this article cites verifiable, third-party sources which have all been thoroughly fact-checked and deemed credible by the Newsroom in accordance with the Civil Constitution.
A Denver Public Schools bus. (Olivia Sun, The Colorado Sun via Report for America)

The special education director of Denver Public Schools who when he was hired failed to reveal past accusations of sexually inappropriate comments to high school girls has been placed on administrative leave.

A school district spokesman confirmed Thursday that Michael Winston, who went by the name Phil Winston when he was principal of a California school where he was investigated for misconduct, was placed on leave but the spokesman could not say why or provide further details. 

The district told The Colorado Sun in October that district leaders who hired Winston and later promoted him did not know about the past allegations. Winston was paid $150,000 in a settlement with the Palo Alto school district in 2015 after he was issued a notice of “unprofessional conduct and unsatisfactory performance.”

Winston passed a background check when he was hired by Denver Public Schools because he had never been convicted of any crime, or even charged. A Google search would have turned up multiple stories about Winston’s issues in Palo Alto, but under the other name. 

The background check process did not include searching the internet for any news articles or documents about a potential job candidate, district spokesman Scott Pribble said then. 


In October, Denver schools officials told The Sun that the district stood by its decision to hire Winston and called his work for Denver Public Schools “exemplary.” He was hired in 2020 as a special education instructional specialist, promoted to senior manager of special education about a year later, and promoted again a year ago to director of special education. 

Winston settled with Palo Alto Unified School District and resigned as a middle school special education teacher in 2015. He had previously stepped down as principal of Palo Alto High School, where he was accused of making sexually inappropriate comments to students and staff. 

Winston previously declined to comment to The Sun and could not be reached for comment Thursday. 

Jen is a co-founder and reporter at The Sun, where she writes about mental health, child welfare and social justice issues.

Her first journalism job was at The Hungry Horse News in her home state of Montana, before moving on to reporting jobs in Texas and Oklahoma. She worked for 13 years at The Denver Post, including several years on the investigative projects team, before helping create The Sun in 2018.

Jen is a graduate of the University of Montana and loves hiking, skiing and watching her kids' sports.

Email: Twitter: @jenbrowncolo