Aurora school board votes to close new charter school, saying it failed students with special needs

Vega Collegiate Academy must close at the end of the school year after the Aurora school board determined the charter was failing to educate properly students with special needs.

The board voted unanimously Tuesday to approve the district’s recommendation to revoke the school’s charter. The board room erupted in people shouting, “shame on you,” at the school board. Children started crying.

Vega, which enrolls just under 200 students in kindergarten, first grade, fifth grade, and sixth grade, opened for the 2017-18 school year. The school adds two grade levels per year, and planned to serve kindergarten through eighth-grade students. In its first year, the school’s students managed to earn the state’s highest math growth scores.

Charter school leaders said they will appeal the school board’s decision to the state.

District officials, in a presentation two weeks ago, told the school board they had found problems at Vega back in October — including that the school had enrolled two students it was not equipped to serve, that it did not have a teacher licensed to educate students with special needs, and that it segregated some students in ways that violated federal laws. District officials said that in discussions with the school since then, they had not been able to resolve all the problems.

School officials denied some of the allegations, such as improperly segregating students, and admitted to others, such as having enrolled two students who needed services from a specific center-based program. School leaders said that as a new school they were unclear on some procedures and assured the board that they were making changes.

Before the vote, Vega parents spoke at the meeting Tuesday, pleading with the board to keep the school open. Many more were in attendance with their children.

Alberto Torres, a father of a Vega student, told the board that his son wasn’t learning anything at his previous Aurora school.

“Before, it was meetings and meetings, and every single meeting I had teachers tell me my son needed special education,” Torres said. “It was frustrating for me.”

Within five months of starting at Vega, Torres said his son has finally started learning to read. He is now considering returning to his previous school just to show them his son was able to learn.

“In Vega, he spends most of his time reading, he’s been doing so much in five months,” Torres said. “I don’t understand the reason why you want this school closed.”

Four of the school board members, elected in November 2017 as a union-backed slate, spoke out against charter schools in the district during their campaigns. This is the first significant action against a charter school by the board.

Board members clarified with their attorney that what they were tasked with considering was whether or not the school committed a breach of its contract.

“I do believe there was a failure to comply, not only with our contract but with federal law,” said board member Debbie Gerkin. “I believe according to the pieces of evidence brought forth that Vega had the opportunity to cure these deficits and did not in a timely manner. I don’t have confidence that we’ll continue to see that taken care of in the future.”

The school had also been at odds with the district last year over facilities. Vega leaders had located a building on Colfax Avenue that would be big enough to accommodate the school as it grew, adding more grades with each passing year. But Aurora Superintendent Rico Munn denied the school’s relocation based on its proximity to a marijuana shop. The school opened in the basement of a church in northwest Aurora, and has continued to operate there.