Denver board approves charter school centering Black students

Students participate in the 5280 Freedom School summer program, which inspired its founders to apply to open a charter school. (Courtesy of 5280 Freedom School)

After the state ordered Denver to reconsider a charter school centering Black students and culture, the Denver school board Thursday approved the school to open next fall.

But the approval comes with conditions, including that 5280 Freedom School must fill all of its open seats in its first year. The school plans to open with 52 students in kindergarten and first grade, and add grades each year up to fifth grade. 

Denver schools are funded per pupil, and other new charter schools have had to delay opening because they didn’t enroll enough students. Existing charter schools have closed because their enrollment declined, and the district is considering closing some of its own schools due to low student counts. The school board initially rejected the 5280 Freedom School for fear it would struggle to attract enough students to be financially viable.

The 5280 Freedom School appealed the board’s denial. Last month, the State Board of Education ordered Denver to reconsider its decision. State Board members said it was unfair to assume that 5280 Freedom School would face the same challenges as other charters.

The school grew out of a summer camp program focused on the well-being of Black children, teaching them about Black history, African drumming, poetry, nutrition, and more. Families loved the camp so much they asked for a year-round school, founder Branta Lockett said.

“A reason our school is so needed is that DPS has failed Black students and other marginalized students over time,” Lockett told the State Board of Education at a hearing last month. She pointed to several examples, including the disproportionate discipline of Black students and the under-identification of Black students as gifted. The state recently found the district violated the rights of Black boys with disabilities who attend specialized programs.

The Denver school board approved the school unanimously without discussion.

Melanie Asmar is a senior reporter for Chalkbeat Colorado, covering Denver Public Schools. Contact Melanie at masmar@chalkbeat.org.

The Latest

In a rare action, the state Board of Education passed a resolution questioning whether the 2021 law targets the right age group.

School officials, educators, and advocates are seeing a rise in demand for career and technical education programs. Gov. J.B. Pritzker proposed adding more state funding to support, but some say it might not be enough.

Critics say the city still hasn’t provided a satisfactory explanation for why the midyear menu reductions were necessary.

Mallory Fix-Lopez, the only educator on the board, said her resignation is due in part to the time commitment and workload that comes with the volunteer position.

Thanks to a budget cut from Mayor Eric Adams, middle school students will face significantly reduced hours — including no programming on Fridays.

“We realized we could actually make a change if we put our hearts to it,” said Niko Peterson, a senior at Animas High School in Durango who helped write the bill.