The Douglas County School District is at odds with one of its charter schools over the arming of staff.
The district says its policy has been updated to set clear parameters regarding who can and cannot carry firearms at school. But Ascent Classical Academy in Lone Tree has implemented a volunteer program this school year that allows staff members to undergo training and arm themselves on campus.
The school district says the program violates policy, while Ascent officials say the program is within the confines of the school’s contract based on the terms the district approved in 2017.
The two entities are negotiating a transfer of Ascent’s charter to the state authorizer, the Colorado Charter School Institute. Ascent CEO Derec Shuler said he’s hopeful they’ll come to an agreement.
But should negotiations fail, Shuler said the district indicated it would proceed with revoking the school’s charter.
So, what does a transfer entail, and how does that differ from revoking a charter?
Dan Schaller, the Colorado League of Charter Schools’ vice president of state and local policy, said the process of transferring a school’s charter to CSI likely begins with a vote from the district’s school board.
“But that doesn’t necessarily mean that the state entity would approve that. That just means that the school would then go into the process,” he said.
The Colorado Charter School Institute could not be reached for comment. The institute’s website says it oversees 40 schools in Colorado and strives to balance autonomy with accountability.
If a district pursues revoking a school’s charter, “That process would also be a voting action by the board,” Schaller said.
In the instance of a revocation, the district’s school board would give the charter school advance notice of the vote. If revoking the charter is approved, the charter school would have the option to appeal that decision to the state board of education.
A charter would have 30 days to file that appeal and the state board has 60 days to decide the issue. If the state board sides with a charter school, the local school district can file a second appeal. The state board has 30 days to decide a second appeal, which is the last allowed by state statute, Schaller said.
Douglas County School Board President David Ray said he can’t discuss details of the agreement to transfer Ascent’s charter while it is under negotiation.
He noted Ascent could request a new waiver of the portion of school policy regarding armed staff but has not done so.
Discussions between the district and Ascent began about a year ago when Ascent’s board approved the armed staff policy, Ray said.
The district sent Ascent a letter asking for clarification of the program, and determined it violated district policy.
“We’re policy setters. If someone is violating district policy, we have to move forward with whatever consequence that may be,” Ray said. “I can’t honestly tell you right now what that may be.”
Ray made it clear that Douglas County schools are not gun-free zones. They are staffed with security personnel who carry firearms on duty. He said the district’s policy is research-based and the disagreement with Ascent is a matter of interpreting policy, not taking a stance on the arming of teachers.
A portion of the district’s school security policy states armed security personnel must be an officer employed solely for security purposes, that the officers be certified in Peace Officer Standards and Training, and that uniformed security personnel not be allowed to conceal their weapons while on duty.
“It’s about a policy issue,” Ray said. “The board has been very clear around our expectations about what staff should be armed and what kind of credentials they need to be armed.”
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