Colorado

Monday churn: More drama in DPS

Updated 7:30 p.m. – Denver Public Schools contract attorney Martin Semple countered an opinion from attorney Mark Grueskin (see below) saying that three school board members facing censure did, in fact, attend a meeting closed in violation of the Sunshine Law.

“It fell without question under the aegis of the (state) open meeting law,” Semple said at a school board work session Monday evening. “The only question…is whether it was convened to discuss public business that would be public business of the school district.” And that, was in fact, the case he said.

Meanwhile, it appeared likely that a vote to censure three school board members for attending the meeting in question would be delayed beyond Thursday’s board meeting so it would not distract from a  crucial vote on a school transformation plan for Far Northeast Denver. And board President Nate Easley, who is bringing the censure motion forward, appears to lack the four votes needed to get it passed.

UpdatedThe Denver Classroom Teachers Association today posted on its website a legal opinion stating three school board members facing censure did not violate the state’s Sunshine Law.

The opinion from attorney Mark Grueskin states that, “Put simply, there is no requirement for public notice at a gathering where three or more board members are in attendance. The only condition to such a meeting is that it be open to the public.”

DCTA President Henry Roman said the union wanted to “set the record straight as soon as possible.” On Thursday, the board is set to vote on turnaround strategies for low-performing schools in Northeast Denver.

“Thursday night, the DPS school board will be deciding the fate of several schools, hundreds of teachers and a large number of our student population,” Roman wrote in a news release. “This time ought to be spent carefully listening to DPS patrons on these issues – instead of wasting time on internal DPS board issues.”

Grueskin is a prominent attorney who has worked as a registered lobbyist for the Colorado Education Association. Last November, Grueskin was involved in another DPS board dispute when newly elected member Andrea Merida chose to take her seat earlier than expected and before a controversial vote on a reform plan involving Lake Middle School.

Grueskin wrote a letter to Merida that said any votes taken by the “old board” – the two other newly elected members declined to be sworn in early – “will likely be treated as void.” DPS’ attorney John Kechriotis later described the letter as a “political prop” apparently intended to delay the controversial vote.

The board voted anyway and approved the Lake plan 4-3, with Merida, Arturo Jimenez and Jeanne Kaplan voting no. No legal action was taken based on Grueskin’s letter.

Merida, Jimenez and Kaplan are the board members now facing censure. Read the item below for more on the censure issue and DPS board disagreements.

“If there had been a violation of the law – there might be a reason to discuss it,” Roman said of the censure issue. “But this legal opinion clearly states that is not the case. We urge the board to concentrate on the business they were elected to do Thursday night – instead of engaging in false accusations of one another.”

Daily Churn logo What’s churning:

Expect more drama today and Thursday  from the Denver school board, which is considering a censure vote against three members who met with the Colorado Lawyers Committee but didn’t post the notice required by the state’s Open Meetings Law.

Here are the pertinent parts of the law:

What is a meeting? – “Any kind of gathering convened to discuss public business, in person, by telephone, electronically or other means of communication.”

When does it apply to a local public body? – “All meetings of a quorum or three or more members, whichever is fewer, at which public business is discussed or formal action might be taken are open.”

What notice is required? – “Public notice is to be given prior to all meetings where the adoption of any proposed policy, position, resolution, rule, regulation or formal action occurs or at which a majority or quorum is expected to be in attendance.”

The three board members facing censure are Jeanne Kaplan – whose husband, Steve, is listed as a member of the lawyers’ group – along with Arturo Jimenez and Andrea Merida. All three have been critical of the district’s plans for turning around some of its lowest-performing schools.

Discussion about the censure vote is the first item on tonight’s school board agenda, which begins at 4:30 p.m. at 900 Grant St. Check out this Denver Post story for more on the censure issue and check out this Post video for the board’s latest tiff.

Thursday, the board will vote on the censure motion as well as turnaround strategies for schools in northeast Denver. Anyone wanna place bets on 4-3 splits?

We’re happy to credit the Post when referencing a story from the only remaining city daily so we have no problems with the Post copyright policy prominently displayed yesterday on its website. We would ask, however, that the newspaper follow its own guidelines:

But fair use of our content restricts those who want to reference it to reproduce no more than a headline and up to a couple of paragraphs or a summary of the story. (We also request users provide a link to the entire work on our website).

In a Post editorial, also published yesterday, the paper referred to original work by Education News Colorado and neither gave us credit nor included a link, though our partners at 9News did so prominently:

Recent news reports in Colorado in which some educators are questioning whether a sharp rise in drug offenses in schools is attributable to medical marijuana could be devastating to legalization efforts.

Apparently the policy applies only to other people.

What’s on tap:

Here’s the rundown for the rest of the week —

TUESDAY – The Douglas County board convenes at 5 p.m. in the administration building, 620 Wilcox St. in Castle Rock. The public comment session on vouchers and other choice options starts at 7 p.m. … The Aurora board meets starting at 6 p.m. in the Educational Services Center, 1085 Peoria St.

WEDNESDAY – The legislative Joint Budget Committee will be briefed on the proposed 2011-12 higher education budget from 9 a.m. to noon in the committee room at 200 E. 14th Ave. … The Adams 12 school board meets at 7 p.m. in the Training Center at the Educational Support Center, 1500 E. 128th Ave. in Thornton.

THURSDAY – The Quality Teachers Commission meets from 9 a.m. to 1 p.m. at the offices of the Colorado Children’s Campaign, 1580 Lincoln St. … The DPS board meets at 5 p.m. to consider school turnaround recommendations. Public comment will be taken from 6:30 to 7:30 p.m., with a vote sometime after that. The session will be in the boardroom at 900 Grant St.

FRIDAY – The State Council on Educator Effectiveness meets from 10 a.m. to 5 p.m. in the boardroom at 201 E. Colfax Ave.

Good reads from elsewhere:

School safety

Hiring more security officers in Memphis after school shootings could have unintended consequences

PHOTO: Jahi Chikwendiu/The Washington Post/Getty Images

Tennessee’s largest district, Shelby County Schools, is slated to add more school resource officers under the proposed budget for next school year.

Superintendent Dorsey Hopson earmarked $2 million to hire 30 school resource officers in addition to the 98 already in some of its 150-plus schools. The school board is scheduled to vote on the budget Tuesday.

But an increase in law enforcement officers could have unintended consequences.

A new state law that bans local governments from refusing to cooperate with federal immigration officials could put school resource officers in an awkward position.

Tennessee Education Commissioner Candice McQueen recently reminded school personnel they are not obligated to release student information regarding immigration status. School resource officers employed by police or sheriff’s departments, however, do not answer to school districts. Shelby County Schools is still reviewing the law, but school board members have previously gone on the record emphasizing their commitment to protecting undocumented students.

“Right now we are just trying to get a better understanding of the law and the impact that it may have,” said Natalia Powers, a district spokeswoman.

Also, incidents of excessive force and racial bias toward black students have cropped up in recent years. Two white Memphis officers were fired in 2013 after hitting a black student and wrestling her to the ground because she was “yelling and cussing” on school grounds. And mothers of four elementary school students recently filed a lawsuit against a Murfreesboro officer who arrested them at school in 2016 for failing to break up a fight that occurred off-campus.

Just how common those incidents are in Memphis is unclear. In response to Chalkbeat’s query for the number and type of complaints in the last two school years, Shelby County Schools said it “does not have any documents responsive to this request.”

Currently, 38 school resource officers are sheriff’s deputies, and the rest are security officers hired by Shelby County Schools. The officers respond and work to prevent criminal activity in all high schools and middle schools, Hopson said. The 30 additional officers would augment staffing at some schools and for the first time, branch out to some elementary schools. Hopson said those decisions will be based on crime rates in surrounding neighborhoods and school incidents.

Hopson’s initial recommendation for more school resource officers was in response to the school shooting in Parkland, Florida, that killed 17 people and sparked a wave of student activism on school safety, including in Memphis.

Gov. Bill Haslam’s recent $30 million budget boost would allow school districts across Tennessee to hire more law enforcement officers or improve building security. Measures to arm some teachers with guns or outlaw certain types of guns have fallen flat.


For more on the role and history of school resource officers in Tennessee, read our five things to know.


Sheriff’s deputies and district security officers meet weekly, said Capt. Dallas Lavergne of the Shelby County Sheriff’s Office. When the Memphis Police Department pulled their officers out of school buildings following the merger of city and county school systems, the county Sheriff’s Office replaced them with deputies.

All deputy recruits go through school resource officer training, and those who are assigned to schools get additional annual training. In a 2013 review of police academies across the nation, Tennessee was cited as the only state that had specific training for officers deployed to schools.

call out

Our readers had a lot to say in 2017. Make your voice heard in 2018.

PHOTO: Chris Hill/Whitney Achievement School
Teacher Carl Schneider walks children home in 2015 as part of the after-school walking program at Whitney Achievement Elementary School in Memphis. This photograph went viral and inspired a First Person reflection from Schneider in 2017.

Last year, some of our most popular pieces came from readers who told their stories in a series that we call First Person.

For instance, Carl Schneider wrote about the 2015 viral photograph that showed him walking his students home from school in a low-income neighborhood of Memphis. His perspective on what got lost in the shuffle continues to draw thousands of readers.

First Person is also a platform to influence policy. Recent high school graduate Anisah Karim described the pressure she felt to apply to 100 colleges in the quest for millions of dollars in scholarships. Because of her piece, the school board in Memphis is reviewing the so-called “million-dollar scholar” culture at some high schools.

Do you have a story to tell or a point to make? In 2018, we want to give an even greater voice to students, parents, teachers, administrators, advocates and others who are trying to improve public education in Tennessee. We’re looking for essays of 500 to 750 words grounded in personal experience.

Whether your piece is finished or you just have an idea to discuss, drop a line to Community Editor Caroline Bauman at cbauman@chalkbeat.org.

But first, check out these top First Person pieces from Tennesseans in 2017:

My high school told me to apply to 100 colleges — and I almost lost myself in the process

“A counselor never tried to determine what the absolute best school for me would be. I wasted a lot of time, money and resources trying to figure that out. And I almost lost myself in the process.” —Anisah Karim     

Why I’m not anxious about where my kids go to school — but do worry about the segregation that surrounds us

“In fact, it will be a good thing for my boys to learn alongside children who are different from them in many ways — that is one advantage they will have that I did not, attending parochial schools in a lily-white suburb.” —Mary Jo Cramb

I covered Tennessee’s ed beat for Chalkbeat. Here’s what I learned.

“Apathy is often cited as a major problem facing education. That’s not the case in Tennessee.” —Grace Tatter

I went viral for walking my students home from school in Memphis. Here’s what got lost in the shuffle.

“When #blacklivesmatter is a controversial statement; when our black male students have a one in three chance of facing jail time; when kids in Memphis raised in the bottom fifth of the socioeconomic bracket have a 2.6 percent chance of climbing to the top fifth — our walking students home does not fix that, either.” —Carl Schneider

I think traditional public schools are the backbone of democracy. My child attends a charter school. Let’s talk.

“It was a complicated choice to make. The dialogue around school choice in Nashville, though, doesn’t often include much nuance — or many voices of parents like me.” —Aidan Hoyal

I grew up near Charlottesville and got a misleading education about Civil War history. Students deserve better.

“In my classroom discussions, the impetus for the Civil War was resigned to a debate over the balance of power between federal and state governments. Slavery was taught as a footnote to the cause of the war.” —Laura Faith Kebede