Who Is In Charge

Committee rejects parent notice rule

A tie vote Wednesday afternoon by the legislative Committee on Legal Services effectively killed the contentious State Board of Education rule that requires school districts to inform parents when employees are arrested for certain crimes.

Finger printsThe decision was the latest twist in a long story that has involved extensive negotiation among and multiple votes by board members, consistent opposition by the state’s mainline education interest groups and a lawsuit by the state’s largest teachers union.

The rule has been something of a personal crusade for SBE Chair Bob Schaffer, R-4th District, who was prompted to propose it by badly handled arrest reporting incidents in the Poudre schools. Schaffer lives in Fort Collins and is a charter school principal.

The board unanimously approved the rule last April (see story), a year after Schaffer first proposed it. The rule subsequently was challenged in court by the Colorado Education Association (see story). That case is pending, although a Denver judge earlier this fall denied a motion for an injunction against the rule.

Schaffer said his next move will be “likely to pick up the phone” to see if he can find a legislator willing to sponsor a bill that would put the parent notification rule into law.

The somewhat arcane constitutional question of whether SBE had authority to issue the rule is a central issue in the dispute.

State agency rules are governed by a complex review process. Once issued, rules are in effect until the following May 15. For rules to go into effect permanently, the legislature passes a law every year extending rules beyond May 15.

Lawyers from the Office of Legislative Legal Services review new rules and may make recommendations to the Legal Services Committee, a joint House-Senate panel.

In this case, legal services staff lawyers Michael Dohr and Brita Darling concluding that SBE exceeded its authority and recommended the committee not include the rule in the annual bill to permanently extend new regulations (read their memo). The staff lawyers recommended the parent notice rule not be extended because they concluded the board didn’t have the legal power to issue it.

Much of the one hour and 45 minute discussion Wednesday focused on the somewhat esoteric issue of whether the state board’s constitutional assignment of “general supervision” of schools gives it the power to issue such a rule – particularly considering that the vast majority of SBE rules are issued to implement specific laws passed by the legislature. The notification rule was the board’s own initiative and was not issued to implement legislation.

Michael Dohr and Tony Dyl
Legislative lawyer Michael Dohr (left) and Senior Assistant Attorney General Tony Dyl.
Dohr, who presented to the committee, said, “The rules in this case go beyond ‘general supervision.’”

Senior Assistant Attorney General Tony Dyl, a longtime legal advisor to the state board, argued the opposite point of view, saying, “I believe the state board possesses both the constitutional and statutory authority” to issue the parent notice rule.

Committee members discussed the issue at length. Rep. Claire Levy, D-Boulder, warned that affirming the rule was “a dangerous slippery slope” that could expand the board’s authority beyond constitutional limits.

Both Levy and committee chair Sen. John Morse, D-Colorado Springs, expressed concerns that the rule requires reporting of arrests, not convictions.

The rule applies to arrests or charging of employees and former employees whose jobs require them to be in contact with students. In most cases, notice must be given within 24 hours of a district learning of an arrest.

Notification is required in cases involving any felony, drug crimes (except for misdemeanor marijuana cases), misdemeanor and municipal violations involving children, misdemeanor and municipal ordinance violations involving unlawful sexual behavior of various kinds, and any crime of violence. Drunken driving arrests are included if an employee’s duties involve transporting students in motor vehicles.

The rule contains no enforcement or reporting requirements on school districts.

In the end, a motion to extend the rule died on a 5-5 vote, with committee Republicans voting yes and Democrats voting no. Two Republicans, Rep. Mark Waller of Colorado Springs and Sen. Greg Brophy of Wray, said they had concerns with part of the rule but voted yes on the motion to continue the full rule. The vote means the rule will expire next May 15.

Speaking with reporters after the meaning, Schaffer said the vote means parents could be “stuffed back into the darkness” of not knowing when school employees are arrested and indicated he’ll seek a legislative solution to the issue. He said he hopes the partisan split on the committee “is not a reflection on the substantive policy issue” of protecting children.

Despite the lack of a reporting requirement, Schaffer said, “The rule has worked very well,” adding he’s heard of 10-12 cases in which districts have notified parents since the rule went into effect last spring.

Dyl indicated that although he expects a judge to rule on the CEA lawsuit before May 15, the committee’s action pretty much settles the issue.

Mike Wetzel, a CEA spokesman, said Wednesday evening, “We’re pleased that school districts will be allowed to resume local control in matters of school employee discipline, and educators will not run the risk of permanent damage to their personal and professional reputations should they ever be wrongly accused. The rule did nothing to protect students or help parents, and we hope this is the last we hear of this truly unnecessary measure.”


Aurora’s superintendent will get a contract extension

Aurora Public Schools Superintendent Rico Munn. (Photo by Andy Cross/The Denver Post)

The Aurora school board is offering superintendent Rico Munn a contract extension.

Marques Ivey, the school board president, made the announcement during Tuesday’s regular board meeting.

“The board of education believes we are headed in the right direction,” Ivey said. Munn can keep the district going in the right direction, he added.

The contract extension has not been approved yet. Munn said Tuesday night that it had been sent to his lawyer, but he had not had time to review it.

Munn took the leadership position in Aurora Public Schools in 2013. His current contract is set to expire at the end of June.

Munn indicated he intends to sign the new contract after he has time to review it. If he does so, district leaders expect the contract to be on the agenda of the board’s next meeting, April 3, for a first review, and then for a vote at the following meeting.

Details about the new offer, including the length of the extension or any salary increases, have not been made public.

Four of the seven members currently on the board were elected in November as part of a union-supported slate. Many voiced disapproval of some of the superintendent’s reform strategies such as his invitation to charter school network DSST to open in Aurora.

In their first major vote as a new board, the board also voted against the superintendent’s recommendation for the turnaround of an elementary school, signaling a disagreement with the district’s turnaround strategies.

But while several Aurora schools remain low performing, last year the district earned a high enough rating from the state to avoid a path toward state action.

cooling off

New York City charter leader Eva Moskowitz says Betsy DeVos is not ‘ready for prime time’

PHOTO: Chalkbeat
Success Academy CEO and founder Eva Moskowitz seemed to be cooling her support for U.S. Education Secretary Betsy DeVos.

In New York City, Eva Moskowitz has been a lone voice of support for the controversial U.S. Education Secretary Betsy DeVos. But even Moskowitz appears to be cooling on the secretary following an embarrassing interview.

“I believe her heart is in the right place,” Moskowitz, founder and CEO of Success Academy, said of DeVos at an unrelated press conference. “But as the recent interviews indicate, I don’t believe she’s ready for primetime in terms of answering all of the complex questions that need to be answered on the topic of public education and choice.”

That is an apparent reference to DeVos’s roundly criticized appearance on 60 Minutes, which recently aired a 30-minute segment in which the secretary admits she hasn’t visited struggling schools in her tenure. Even advocates of school choice, DeVos’s signature issue, called her performance an “embarrassment,” and “Saturday Night Live” poked fun at her.  

Moskowitz’s comments are an about-face from when the education secretary was first appointed. While the rest of the New York City charter school community was mostly quiet after DeVos was tapped for the position, Moskowitz was the exception, tweeting that she was “thrilled.” She doubled-down on her support months later in an interview with Chalkbeat.

“I believe that education reform has to be a bipartisan issue,” she said.

During Monday’s press conference, which Success Academy officials called to push the city for more space for its growing network, Moskowitz also denied rumors, fueled by a tweet from AFT President Randi Weingarten, that Success officials had recently met with members of the Trump administration.

Shortly after the election, Moskowitz met with Trump amid speculation she was being considered for the education secretary position. This time around, she said it was “untrue” that any visits had taken place.

“You all know that a while back, I was asked to meet with the president-elect. I thought it was important to take his call,” she said. “I was troubled at the time by the Trump administration. I’m even more troubled now. And so, there has been no such meeting.”