Round Two

After turmoil, here’s what’s next in search for new Denver school board member

PHOTO: Nicholas Garcia
DPS board vice president Barbara O'Brien. left, and board president Anne Rowe.

With their first pick having bowed out amid controversy, Denver school board members must regroup and figure out who will join the board — and how exactly the appointment process will play out.

Longtime parent activist MiDian Holmes was appointed to the seven-member board Tuesday. After a decade-old conviction for misdemeanor child abuse was made public, Holmes announced late Thursday that she wouldn’t accept the position.

Board members and allies have underscored that Holmes, a single mother with young children, had endured challenges many other Denver families struggle with as well.

The board was supposed to meet Friday at 5 p.m. to discuss Holmes’ appointment. But board treasurer Mike Johnson said Holmes’ withdrawal made the meeting moot.

The board is set to meet again Monday at 4:30 p.m. for a previously scheduled work session and special meeting. Holmes was supposed to be sworn in at that meeting.

An agenda has not yet been posted.

Monday is the deadline by which the board must choose a successor for former board member Landri Taylor, who resigned in February after representing northeast Denver for three years. State law requires the board fill the vacancy within 60 days.

If that doesn’t happen, the law says, “the president of the board shall forthwith appoint a person to fill the vacancy.” Other than “forthwith,” the law doesn’t specify a deadline.

Board president Anne Rowe said she was unavailable Friday to discuss how she might approach the process of selecting a board member.

A Denver board president last appointed a new member in 2013. A divided board disagreed over who should fill a vacancy created by the resignation of former member Nate Easley. Then-president Mary Seawell ended up appointing Taylor, who was one of three finalists.

There were three finalists this time, as well. On Tuesday, the six remaining board members narrowed the pool of candidates down to Holmes, Jennifer Bacon and Rachele Espiritu.

In a final round of voting, Holmes got four of the six votes.

Bacon got two. She works as regional director of Leadership for Educational Equity, an organization that aims to help Teach for America alumni become school leaders. She is also an attorney and the board chair of Padres & Jovenes Unidos, an advocacy group that has criticized DPS for discipline policies that disproportionately impact students of color.

Espiritu, a parent who works in behavioral health, didn’t get any votes in the final round.

Not over yet

A firm reprimand — but no penalty yet — for two Tennessee districts that defy deadline to share student data

PHOTO: TN.gov
Tennessee Education Commissioner Candice McQueen.

So what will be the consequences for the two Tennessee school districts that missed a state-imposed deadline to share contact information for their students with charter schools? For now, disappointment from the state’s top education official.

Education Commissioner Candice McQueen had promised to issue consequences if the two districts, Shelby County Schools and Metro Nashville Public Schools, did not meet the Monday deadline.

But when the end of the day passed — as expected — without any data-sharing, McQueen declined to penalize the districts. Instead, she issued a stern statement.

“We are disappointed that these districts are choosing to withhold information from parents about the options that are available to their students while routinely saying they desire more parental engagement,” she said. “Allowing parents to be informed of their educational options is the epitome of family engagement and should be embraced by every school official.”

McQueen seemed to indicate that firmer consequences could lie ahead. “We must consider all options available in situations where a district actively chooses to ignore the law,” she said in the statement. McQueen told lawmakers in a conference call last month that she was not discussing withholding state funds as a penalty at the time, according to Rep. John Clemmons, who was on the call.

The anticlimactic decision comes after weeks of back-and-forth between the state and its two largest school districts over student contact information — the latest front in the districts’ ongoing enrollment war with charter schools.

Charter schools are pressing the districts to share information about their students, arguing that they need to be able to contact local families to inform them about their school options. District leaders argue that a federal rule about student privacy lets local districts decide who gets that information. (The districts have chosen to distribute student contact information to other entities, including yearbook companies.)

The state’s attorney general sided with charter schools, saying that marketing to families is an acceptable use of student contact information and districts were required to hand it over to charter schools that requested it. Both school boards cite a committee discussion in February when state lawmakers sought to make sure the information could not be used as a “recruiting tool” as evidence that the intent of the law runs counter to the state’s application of it.

What Memphis parents should know about how schools share student information

Now, the conflict has potential to head to court. Shelby County Schools already committed last month to writing a letter outlining its arguments to support the Nashville district if it decides to file a lawsuit against the state.

As the deadline drew near, the two school boards teamed up to flesh out their positions and preview what that legal battle might look like. Over the weekend, board chairs Anna Shepherd in Nashville and Chris Caldwell in Memphis penned a letter to USA Today’s Tennessee papers arguing the districts should not be required to hand over student information to a state-run district facing deep financial, operational and academic woes.

They also pointed to a recent $2.2 million settlement between a parents and a Nashville charter network over spam text messages promoting enrollment at its schools as evidence the transaction could lead to invasion of privacy.

Clarification (Sept. 25, 2017): This story has been updated to clarify the source of McQueen’s early comments on penalties she was discussing at the time. 

deja vu

For second straight year, two charter schools denied by Memphis board appeal to the state

PHOTO: Micaela Watts
Sara Heyburn Morrison, executive director of the Tennessee State Board of Education, listens last May to charter appeals by three operators in Memphis.

For the second year in a row, charter schools seeking to open in Memphis are appealing to the state after being rejected by the local board.

Two proposed all-girls schools, The Academy All Girls Charter School and Rich ED Academy of Leaders, went before the Tennessee Board of Education last week to plead for the right to open. Citing weaknesses in the schools’ planning, the Shelby County Schools board had rejected them, along with nine other charter applicants, last month. It approved three schools, many fewer than in previous years.

After state officials and charter operators complained last year that the Memphis school board didn’t have clear reasons for rejecting schools, the district revamped its charter oversight to make the review process more transparent. Now, five independent evaluators help scrutinize schools’ lengthy applications — a job that until this year had been done by three district officials with many other responsibilities. (The district also doubled the size of its charter schools office.)

The new appeals suggest that at least some charter operators aren’t satisfied by the changes.

District officials said the schools did not have clear goals for their academic programs and relied too heavily on grant funding. The board for Rich Ed Academy of Learners said in its appeal letter the district’s concerns were ambiguous and that the school would provide a unique project-based learning model for girls of color from low-income families.

The other school’s board said in its letter that the district’s decision was not in the best interest of students. A school official declined to elaborate.

The state board blasted Shelby County Schools’ charter revocation and approval processes last year, ultimately approving one appeal. That cleared the way for the first charter school in Memphis overseen by the panel.

The state board will vote on the new appeals at its quarterly meeting Friday, Oct. 20. If the state board approves the appeals, the local board would have 30 days to decide whether to authorize the school or relinquish oversight to the state board.