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.

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