Colorado

Jeffco school board member censured

Jefferson County school board members on Thursday censured one of their own – board member Laura Boggs – for “unethical behavior” after Boggs reportedly threatened to derail a $32.8 million federal grant and to “tear this county apart.”

The threats, relayed by Superintendent Cindy Stevenson after a meeting between the two on Dec. 10, were described by board members as just the latest in a string of inappropriate behavior by Boggs since her 2009 election.

“I believe that if we don’t do something now we’re going to be looking at three more years of this and I think that is not acceptable,” board member Paula Noonan said before the 4-0 vote to censure.

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Boggs, who was not allowed to vote on the censure motion, said Stevenson’s characterizations of their meeting as described in a Dec. 13 letter to board members are “grossly misstated.”

“Do I think it was a nice meeting? Absolutely not,” Boggs said, adding that she believed a ‘he said, she said’ rebuttal was pointless. “I am going to … vehemently deny the accusations in that letter.”

A censure is essentially a formal public rebuke of Boggs but it carries no other weight. Noonan proposed also removing Boggs from committees on which she serves as a board representative but delayed that motion until January.

Boggs declined comment today, citing the board’s policy of having its president, Dave Thomas, deal with press inquiries. She typically has declined to discuss reports of her impropriety with the media for that reason.

Shortly before Thursday’s board vote, a community group led by Jeffco parent Eric Westerhausen called on board members to request Boggs’ resignation, saying they could no longer sit idly by while her behavior tarnished the reputation of the board and the district.

Westerhausen today called the censure “long overdue.”

Jeffco school board member Laura Boggs

“I originally voted for Laura Boggs and I think it’s a clear example of somebody who campaigns in a certain way to achieve kind of a centrist, populist view to get votes so that she gets in office,” he said. “Her actions certainly following that have not supported what we expect of an elected official in this county.”

Thursday’s call for Boggs’ resignation follows similar public speeches in past months.

Last March, Kerrie Dallman, head of the Jefferson County teachers’ union, called on board members to curb Boggs’ behavior. The union also began a newsletter called “Boggs Watch” to record her “rogue” antics.

In June, a group that included former state Sen. Norma Anderson and former school board member Hereford Percy registered complaints and one, Phyllis Albritton, requested a censure of Boggs.

Among the actions cited by Westerhausen, board members and others as inappropriate:

  • Boggs voted with the rest of the board to oppose the anti-tax ballot initiatives 60, 61 and 101 but then publicly endorsed the measures
  • Boggs publicly suggested the district refrain from hiring principals with young children
  • Boggs entered a classroom at Green Mountain High School and, during a lesson, linked the words “school” and “stupid” on the white board
  • Boggs inserted herself in individual school issues, including a contentious boundary dispute in Indian Hills

But Martin Richardson, an Indian Hills resident and key proponent of the boundary change, said Boggs neither orchestrated nor was heavily involved in the issue.

“We are in the district where she got elected. Isn’t she supposed to be part of that community and represent that community?” he said. “It’s insulting to me because we did all the work.”

Much of Thursday’s discussion, however, centered on what was said in the meeting between Boggs and Stevenson. In her letter, Stevenson wrote that Boggs said she was going to call Washington, D.C., in an attempt to endanger the district’s grant for teacher performance pay.

Jeffco school board president Dave Thomas
Jeffco school board president Dave Thomas

“If the allegation is that one board member was going to try to interfere with the largest grant this district has ever received, unilaterally… I am really concerned,” said Thomas, the board president.

“I am equally concerned that for the past 12 months, the dynamics of this board have changed dramatically … the relationships between board members and between at least one board member and the superintendent have become extremely acrimonious, in my opinion, and it has prevented this board from moving forward.”

It’s the first time a board member in the state’s largest school district has been censured, according to district spokeswoman Lynn Setzer.

Jeffco board members have asked a sitting board member to resign. That occurred in July 2008 when members asked for the resignation of Vince Chowdhury, after he entered a guilty plea to misdemeanor assault for slapping his teen-aged daughter.

a 'meaningful' education?

How a Colorado court case could change how public schools everywhere serve students with special needs

Dougco headquarters in Castle Rock (John Leyba/The Denver Post).

The U.S. Supreme Court on Wednesday grappled with the question of what kind of education public schools must provide students with disabilities, hearing arguments in a case that originated with a complaint against a suburban Denver school district and that could have profound implications nationwide.

The case involves a student diagnosed with autism and attention deficit/hyperactive disorder. His parents pulled him out of his Douglas County elementary school, saying he wasn’t making enough progress and the district’s response was lacking.

They enrolled the boy in a private school for children with autism and asked the district to reimburse them for the tuition, arguing their son was due a “free appropriate public education” as required by the 1975 Individuals with Disabilities Education Act.

The law spells out the requirements states must meet to receive federal money to educate special-needs students. The district declined, saying it had met the standard of the law.

The family eventually filed a lawsuit against the district. Lower courts all sided with the district, reasoning that it had provided the child “some” educational benefit — the standard cited in the federal statute at issue.

Lower courts across the nation have varied in their definition of the proper standard. The high court arguments Wednesday centered on whether “some” benefit was good enough, or whether special-needs students deserve a more “meaningful” benefit.

Jeffrey Fisher, an attorney for the boy’s family, told the justices that as a general rule, individualized education plans for special education students should include “a level of educational services designed to allow the child to progress from grade to grade in the general curriculum.”

Throughout the arguments, the justices expressed frustration with what Justice Samuel Alito described as “a blizzard of words” that the law and courts have used to define what’s appropriate for special needs students.

Chief Justice John Roberts said regardless of the term used, “the whole package has got to be helpful enough to allow the student to keep up with his peers.”

Neal Katyal, an attorney for the school district, argued that providing children “some benefit” is a reasonable standard.

“That’s the way court after court has interpreted it,” he said. “It’s worked well. This court shouldn’t renege on that.”

Ron Hager, senior staff attorney for special education at the National Disability Rights Network, attended the oral arguments Wednesday and said he was optimistic the lower court’s ruling would be overturned.

He said if the Supreme Court does overturn the federal Tenth Circuit Court’s ruling and requires a higher standard, it won’t necessarily come with major financial costs for school districts. Instead, he said, it will nudge them to be proactive and provide teacher training and intervention services early on instead of waiting until problems — and the expenses associated with them — snowball later.

Marijo Rymer, executive director of the Arc of Colorado, which advocates on behalf of people with intellectual and developmental disabilities, said she was heartened to see the case advance to the Supreme Court. Establishing a clearer standard on what constitutes a fair and appropriate education for students with disabilities is a civil rights issue, she said.

“It’s critical that federal law, which is what this is based on, be reinforced and supported, and the court is in the position to deliver that message to the nation’s schools and the taxpayers that fund them,” Rymer said.

Both Hager and Rymer acknowledged that even if the Supreme Court establishes a new, higher standard, it could be open to interpretation. Still, they said it would send a strong message to school districts about their responsibilities to students with disabilities.

Summer remix

Ten stories you may have missed this summer (and should read now as the new school year kicks in)

PHOTO: Caroline Bauman
Gabrielle Colburn, 7, adds her artistic flair to a mural in downtown Memphis in conjunction with the XQ Super Schools bus tour in June.

Labor Day used to signal the end of summer break and the return to school. That’s no longer the case in Tennessee, but the long holiday is a good time to catch up on all that happened over the summer. Here are 10 stories to get you up to speed on K-12 education in Tennessee and its largest school district.

TNReady is back — with a new test maker.

Last school year ended on a cliffhanger, with the State Department of Education canceling its end-of-year tests for grades 3-8 in the spring and firing testmaker Measurement Inc. after a series of missteps. In July, Commissioner Candice McQueen announced that Minnesota-based Questar will pick up where Measurement Inc. left off. She also outlined the state’s game plan for standardized tests in the coming year.

But fallout over the state’s failed TNReady test in 2015-16 will be felt for years.

The one-year void in standardized test scores has hit Tennessee at the heart of its accountability system, leaving the state digging for other ways to assess whether all of its students are improving.

Speaking of accountability, Tennessee also is updating that plan under a new federal education law.

The state Department of Education has been working with educators, policymakers and community members on new ways to evaluate schools in answer to the federal Every Student Succeeds Act, or ESSA, which requires states to judge schools by non-academic measures as well as test scores.

Meanwhile, issues of race and policing have educators talking about how to foster conversations about social justice in school.

In the wake of police-related killings that rocked the nation, five Memphis teachers talked about how they tackle difficult conversations about race all year long.

School closures made headlines again in Memphis — with more closings likely.

Closing schools has become an annual event as Tennessee’s largest district loses students and funding, and this year was no exception. The shuttering of Carver and Northside high schools brought the total number of district-run school closures to at least 21 since 2012. And more are likely. This month, Shelby County Schools is scheduled to release a facilities analysis that should set the stage for future closures. Superintendent Dorsey Hopson has said the district needs to shed as many as two dozen schools — and 27,000 seats — over the next four years. A Chalkbeat analysis identifies 25 schools at risk.

Exacerbating the challenges of shifting enrollment, families in Foote Homes scrambled to register their children for school as Memphis’ last public housing project prepared to close this month amid a delay in delivering housing vouchers to move elsewhere.

The new school year has officially begun, with the budget approved not a moment too soon for Shelby County Schools.

District leaders that began the budget season facing an $86 million shortfall eventually convinced county commissioners to significantly increase local funding, while also pulling some money from the school system’s reserve funds. The result is a $959 million budget that gives most of the district’s teachers a 3 percent raise and restores funding for positions deemed critical for continued academic progress.

The district also unveiled its first annual report on its growing sector of charter schools.

With charter schools now firmly entrenched in Memphis’ educational landscape, a Shelby County Schools analysis shows a mixed bag of performance, while calling on traditional and charter schools to learn from each other and promising better ways to track quality.