Dougco voucher case will stay in Denver

Updated – A Denver judge has scheduled a three-day hearing starting Aug. 2 on a motion to halt the voucher pilot. District Judge Michael A. Martinez said today he expects to rule on the plaintiffs’ motion for preliminary injunction shortly after the hearing is completed. If granted, the motion would stop the pilot from going forward while the legal challenges are resolved.

A Denver judge has denied Douglas County’s request to move the legal action against its voucher pilot to its home turf, saying he’s not convinced the state’s role in creating the pilot was “tangential.”

A bucolic scene in Douglas County

Denver District Court Judge Michael A. Martinez signed the seven-page ruling Saturday, declaring he was not persuaded by the arguments put forth by lawyers for the Dougco school district and its board. They contended the lawsuit should be moved to Douglas County because that’s where the actions occurred leading to the pilot and because it would be more convenient for the parties, witnesses and “the ends of justice.”

“Douglas County defendants also assert that apart from administrative tasks, the state defendants have had no substantive role in the development of the program,” Martinez wrote. “The court is not persuaded.”

The Colorado Department of Education and the State Board of Education are defendants, along with the district and school board, in a now-consolidated set of lawsuits filed June 21 by civil liberties groups, Douglas County parents and residents. They’re seeking to halt the state’s first district-driven voucher pilot, approved by a 7-0 vote of the Dougco school board on March 15.

Under the pilot, 500 Dougco students will use 75 percent of the district’s allocated per-pupil funding in 2011-12 – or $4,575 – to attend private schools that have entered into contracts with the district. The plaintiffs argue the pilot violates the state constitution and state school finance laws, which they say prohibit the spending of public dollars for religious schools.

Attorneys for Dougco filed a motion July 5 seeking a change of venue from Denver to Douglas County. Last Wednesday, the plaintiffs filed a motion objecting to the move and included email exchanges and notes of meetings in Denver between county and state officials, which they presented as proof that at least some of the action related to the pilot occurred outside Douglas County.

Friday, Dougco and state officials submitted a joint response. Martinez was not convinced.

“… the court finds that the meetings hosted by officials of the state defendants constituted more than mere “tangential” conduct as the Douglas County defendants contend,” the judge wrote. “The more reasonable conclusion under the circumstances and pleadings presented here, is that the meetings were a part of the process to identify various issues in the implementation of the program and to propose solutions thereto.”

Martinez also noted that the distance between the Douglas and Denver county courthouses is 30 miles and that Douglas County’s official website touts how “convenient” the commute to Denver is for Dougco residents.

“… the Douglas County defendants failed to provide any factual evidence to support its claim that the parties and witnesses are inconvenienced by this action remaining in Denver County,” the judge wrote. “Therefore, the court concludes that a change of venue is not warranted due to convenience or the ends of justice.”

Attorneys for both sides are scheduled to meet Monday morning with Martinez to set dates for pending motions, including the plaintiffs’ request for an immediate halt to the voucher pilot. Tuesday, the Dougco school board is scheduled for final vote on the creation of a charter school that will administer the pilot.

call out

Our readers had a lot to say in 2017. Make your voice heard in 2018.

PHOTO: Chris Hill/Whitney Achievement School
Teacher Carl Schneider walks children home in 2015 as part of the after-school walking program at Whitney Achievement Elementary School in Memphis. This photograph went viral and inspired a First Person reflection from Schneider in 2017.

Last year, some of our most popular pieces came from readers who told their stories in a series that we call First Person.

For instance, Carl Schneider wrote about the 2015 viral photograph that showed him walking his students home from school in a low-income neighborhood of Memphis. His perspective on what got lost in the shuffle continues to draw thousands of readers.

First Person is also a platform to influence policy. Recent high school graduate Anisah Karim described the pressure she felt to apply to 100 colleges in the quest for millions of dollars in scholarships. Because of her piece, the school board in Memphis is reviewing the so-called “million-dollar scholar” culture at some high schools.

Do you have a story to tell or a point to make? In 2018, we want to give an even greater voice to students, parents, teachers, administrators, advocates and others who are trying to improve public education in Tennessee. We’re looking for essays of 500 to 750 words grounded in personal experience.

Whether your piece is finished or you just have an idea to discuss, drop a line to Community Editor Caroline Bauman at

But first, check out these top First Person pieces from Tennesseans in 2017:

My high school told me to apply to 100 colleges — and I almost lost myself in the process

“A counselor never tried to determine what the absolute best school for me would be. I wasted a lot of time, money and resources trying to figure that out. And I almost lost myself in the process.” —Anisah Karim     

Why I’m not anxious about where my kids go to school — but do worry about the segregation that surrounds us

“In fact, it will be a good thing for my boys to learn alongside children who are different from them in many ways — that is one advantage they will have that I did not, attending parochial schools in a lily-white suburb.” —Mary Jo Cramb

I covered Tennessee’s ed beat for Chalkbeat. Here’s what I learned.

“Apathy is often cited as a major problem facing education. That’s not the case in Tennessee.” —Grace Tatter

I went viral for walking my students home from school in Memphis. Here’s what got lost in the shuffle.

“When #blacklivesmatter is a controversial statement; when our black male students have a one in three chance of facing jail time; when kids in Memphis raised in the bottom fifth of the socioeconomic bracket have a 2.6 percent chance of climbing to the top fifth — our walking students home does not fix that, either.” —Carl Schneider

I think traditional public schools are the backbone of democracy. My child attends a charter school. Let’s talk.

“It was a complicated choice to make. The dialogue around school choice in Nashville, though, doesn’t often include much nuance — or many voices of parents like me.” —Aidan Hoyal

I grew up near Charlottesville and got a misleading education about Civil War history. Students deserve better.

“In my classroom discussions, the impetus for the Civil War was resigned to a debate over the balance of power between federal and state governments. Slavery was taught as a footnote to the cause of the war.” —Laura Faith Kebede

Weekend Reads

Need classroom decor inspiration? These educators have got you covered.

This school year, students will spend about 1,000 hours in school —making their classrooms a huge part of their learning experience.

We’re recognizing educators who’ve poured on the pizazz to make students feel welcome. From a 9th-grade “forensics lab” decked out in caution tape to a classroom stage complete with lights to get first graders pumped about public speaking, these crafty teachers have gone above and beyond to create great spaces.

Got a classroom of your own to show off? Know someone that should be on this list? Let us know!

Jaclyn Flores, First Grade Dual Language, Rochester, New York
“Having a classroom that is bright, cheerful, organized and inviting allows my students to feel pride in their classroom as well as feel welcome. My students look forward to standing on the stage to share or sitting on special chairs to dive into their learning. This space is a safe place for my students and we take pride in what it has become.”

Jasmine, Pre-K, Las Vegas, Nevada
“My classroom environment helps my students because providing calming colors and a home-like space makes them feel more comfortable in the classroom and ready to learn as first-time students!”


Oneika Osborne, 10th Grade Reading, Miami Southridge Senior High School, Miami, Florida
“My classroom environment invites all of my students to constantly be in a state of celebration and self-empowerment at all points of the learning process. With inspirational quotes, culturally relevant images, and an explosion of color, my classroom sets the tone for the day every single day as soon as we walk in. It is one of optimism, power, and of course glitter.”

Kristen Poindexter, Kindergarten, Spring Mill Elementary School, Indianapolis, Indiana
“I try very hard to make my classroom a place where memorable experiences happen. I use songs, finger plays, movement, and interactive activities to help cement concepts in their minds. It makes my teacher heart so happy when past students walk by my classroom and start their sentence with, “Remember when we…?”. We recently transformed our classroom into a Mad Science Lab where we investigated more about our 5 Senses.”


Brittany, 9th Grade Biology, Dallas, Texas
“I love my classroom environment because I teach Biology, it’s easy to relate every topic back to Forensics and real-life investigations! Mystery always gets the students going!”


Ms. Heaton, First Grade, Westampton, New Jersey
“As an educator, it is my goal to create a classroom environment that is positive and welcoming for students. I wanted to create a learning environment where students feel comfortable and in return stimulates student learning. A classroom is a second home for students so I wanted to ensure that the space was bright, friendly, and organized for the students to be able to use each and every day.”

D’Essence Grant, 8th Grade ELA, KIPP Houston, Houston, Texas
“Intentionally decorating my classroom was my first act of showing my students I care about them. I pride myself on building relationships with my students and them knowing I care about them inside and outside of the classroom. Taking the time to make the classroom meaningful and creative as well building a safe place for our community helps establish an effective classroom setting.”


Jayme Wiertzema, Elementary Art, Worthington, Minnesota
“I’m looking forward to having a CLASSROOM this year. The past two years I have taught from a cart and this year my amazing school district allowed me to have a classroom in our school that is busting at the seams! I’m so excited to use my classroom environment to inspire creativity in my students, get to know them and learn from their amazing imaginations in art class!”


Melissa Vecchio, 4th Grade, Queens, New York
“Since so much of a student’s time is spent inside their classroom, the environment should be neat, organized, easy to move around in but most of all positive. I love to use a theme to reinforce great behavior. I always give the students a choice in helping to design bulletin boards and desk arrangements. When they are involved they take pride in the classroom, and enjoy being there.”