The Douglas County School District and the Colorado Department of Education have a legal “difference of opinion” over the district's ability to use state legislation to opt out of a K-3 reading assessment.
A department of education official …
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A department of education official said the district can't use the Innovation School Act to waive its participation in a state test.
The DCSD board adopted a resolution Sept. 2 to submit an innovation waiver to the Colorado Board of Education, noting specific concerns with a time-consuming series of state-mandated reading ability tests in the Reading to Ensure Academic Development Act.
The resolution said several elementary schools instead will meet the goals of the READ Act “using locally developed and locally approved programs.” The board's resolution authorized Superintendent Elizabeth Fagen to assist interested elementary schools in filing a waiver application.
But the CDE, which must approve all such plans, said the act can't be used that way.
“According to guidance from the attorney general's office, the state board is not statutorily authorized to waive compliance with the READ Act,” education commissioner Robert Hammond wrote to Fagen in a Sept. 24 letter.
Hammond wrote that the results of the READ Act tests are included in the formula the CDE uses to calculate school district performance ratings, “… and thus cannot be waived by the state board under the Innovation Act.”
An emailed response from DCSD spokeswoman Paula Hans said DCSD offered schools the possible waiver option after “much due diligence, including consultation with legal counsel.”
“DCSD understands that we have a difference of legal opinion/interpretation with the CDE regarding the authority and ability of the State Board of Education to provide relief to our students by waiving portions of the READ Act,” the email reads. “Our legal interpretations may vary, but we are committed to continuing our collaborative work with CDE in the best interest of our students.”
Hammond's letter was not released to Colorado Community Media by the CDE or DCSD, but through a community group. Voices for Public Education filed open records requests with CDE and DCSD.
Several community members insist the district isn't being upfront about its reasons for wanting to use the act.
The 2008 legislation was designed to boost academic achievement, freeing schools from statutes and rules related to budgeting, curriculum, teacher contracts and other policies.
Voices' co-founder Amy DeValk is among several parents who believe DCSD wants to become an innovation district, and remove itself from many state requirements. They submitted a petition asking DCSD to hold community meetings and explain its intent, but such meetings haven't been scheduled.
“By putting innovation status on a school, I don't think people realize it could open up a whole other can of worms,” DeValk said. “It gives the (DCSD) board of education the opportunity to have a lot more power than they already do. If this was a school board that we had any confidence in or trusted, that would be one thing, but they're not being upfront with what this means.
“In my opinion, they're starting out with the READ Act because it seems innocuous and like something everybody could support. Once that school has innovation status attached to it, we don't know what could happen.
“Everything they've done to this point with pay-for-performance, teacher evaluations, district turnover, public comment at BOE meetings, not holding public forums — if you line everything up, it all adds up to wanting to privatize the school district.”
At least 37 schools in four Colorado school districts have been granted innovation status. Most of them are in Denver Public Schools and Falcon School District 49. District 49, east of Colorado Springs in El Paso County, serves 15,000 students over a 133-square-mile rural and urban area.
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