Judge dismisses Beacon Network lawsuit that sought to restore Denver innovation zone

A middle school hallway.
Kepner Beacon was one of two middle schools in the Beacon Network Schools innovation zone. (Melanie Asmar / Chalkbeat)

A judge dismissed a lawsuit this month against Denver Public Schools that alleged the school board wrongly dissolved one of the district’s three innovation zones.

Denver District Court Judge Mark Bailey ruled that Beacon Network Schools, an innovation zone comprising two Denver middle schools, was “subordinate” to DPS, meaning that the district has authority over the zone. Therefore, Bailey concluded that the court has no jurisdiction, which means the school board’s decision to dissolve the zone stands. 

An innovation zone is a group of semi-autonomous schools. The Beacon zone was overseen by a nonprofit board of directors and not by DPS. Zone schools have increased operational and budget flexibility, which is intended to boost student outcomes.

The Denver school board voted in April to revoke Beacon’s zone status, reverting Grant Beacon and Kepner Beacon middle schools to DPS control. Superintendent Alex Marrero cited several reasons for the revocation, including low test scores at Kepner Beacon.

Beacon sued DPS, claiming in part that the academic data DPS used as justification for the revocation was limited and flawed. Several Beacon officials said they suspected Marrero’s recommendation to revoke the zone was based not on test scores but on a disagreement with Beacon Executive Director Alex Magaña, a claim Marrero has denied.

Beacon also appealed the revocation to the State Board of Education in the first test of a state law that allows the State Board to offer a non-binding opinion. 

In written comments released last month, four State Board members sided with the Denver school board while five members said DPS should give the Beacon zone more time to prove itself. DPS is not required to follow the State Board’s recommendation, though district spokesperson Scott Pribble said the school board will discuss it next month.

At the moment, it appears that Grant Beacon and Kepner Beacon middle schools will start the school year as district-run schools, Pribble said.

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

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