In about-face, Aurora board votes to keep Vega charter school open — but launches an investigation

Aurora school board members voted Tuesday to allow Vega Collegiate Academy, a high-performing charter school, to remain open, reversing an earlier decision.

In February, the school board voted to shut down the school after district staff found that the school was not adequately serving students with special needs. Board members said they didn’t trust that the school could remedy the problems and serve all children.

But on appeal, the State Board of Education sided with Vega and asked Aurora to reconsider, citing the school’s high performance.

Aurora Superintendent Rico Munn on Tuesday proposed keeping Vega open — but under a new agreement with several conditions including a third-party investigation into the school to be completed by June.

Despite expressing doubts, school board members unanimously approved the new agreement. Had they reaffirmed their earlier decision, Vega could have appealed again.

Despite his vote, board President Marques Ivey said he did not respect the State Board’s opinion asking the district to reconsider closing the school.

“If the law is being broken, I don’t care about test scores,” Ivey said. “I’m going to support this because it sounds like both sides really put some time into negotiating it, but I have no problem going through this process again. I have no problem going through the State Board again one or two more times until we get the law followed.”

Vega, which serves almost 200 students in kindergarten, first grade, fifth grade, and sixth grade, opened in the 2017-18 school year. The school adds two grade levels per year, and plans to serve kindergarten through eighth-grade students. In its first year, the school’s students earned the state’s highest math growth scores.

Among the problems the district identified with Vega were enrolling two students the school was not equipped to serve, not having a teacher licensed to educate students with special needs for much of the school year, and segregating some students in violation of federal laws. School officials disputed some of the allegations, and said they were working to make corrections, but district staff felt the problems were not being resolved.

On Tuesday, Munn told the school board that district officials recently found other problems including how the school is serving English language learners, a pattern of misinformation about the school’s actions, and possible violations of the state’s READ Act plan to identify struggling readers and then give them extra help.

The independent investigator will be tasked with looking into allegations that led to the district voting to close the school. The district will ask the investigator to make recommendations this summer so that changes can be put into effect this fall.

In a letter submitted to the board, Vega officials say they are “prepared to consider any recommendations issued by this investigator and to take appropriate action.”

“We believe this approach is the best way to address the district’s concerns, while also preserving the autonomy of the school to make decisions based on the best information available,” the Vega letter states.

Among other things, the negotiated corrective action plan also requires that Vega hire a new special education coordinator, with input from the district, and hire an instructor who is state licensed in culturally and linguistically diverse education to monitor services for English language learners.