Judge won’t dismiss DCTA lawsuit

Denver District Court Judge Ann B. Frick on Thursday denied a motion by Denver Public Schools to dismiss a union lawsuit over the approval of nearly a dozen innovation schools.

“DPS was seeking to silence the teachers and ignore their role as partners in creating effective schools by approving innovation schools without their consent,” Henry Roman, president of the Denver Classroom Teachers Association, said in a news release today.

“Our lawsuit is merely seeking to enforce the law, and preserve the voices of our members in creating innovative educational programs.”

Frick’s ruling followed a 90-minute hearing in February. The case is now expected to move to a hearing for preliminary injunction.

DPS spokesman Mike Vaughn said the judge did agree with the district on some issues, though she declined to void the lawsuit. Frick sided with DPS on two of its six claims.

“We are pleased that the judge granted two of our motions to dismiss, and we remain confident that our position, which is backed by the state’s Attorney General and Board of Education, will prevail,” he said.

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The Innovation Schools Act of 2008 requires that at least 60 percent of a school’s teachers vote in support of proposed innovation plans, which typically include a waiver of job protections for teachers established through the union-district collective bargaining agreement.

The DCTA is challenging the district’s approval of innovation status for 10 schools, most of them in the city’ Far Northeast during the 2010-11 school year, eight of them existing and two of them new. It also is targeting the innovation status for the teacher-led Green School, approved during the 2009-10 school year. DPS has since approved additional innovation plans.

Union leaders say DPS approved innovation plans without obtaining the support of a majority of teachers and without a vote of any collective bargaining unit to approve waivers. Roman singled out the opening of new schools as innovation schools in his news release, saying it “clearly violates” the majority teacher requirement.

“How can new schools with no employees conduct a teacher vote for innovation status?” he said.

DPS leaders deny they violated the law and say teachers applying to new schools signed on to the innovation plans.

In the February hearing, DPS attorney Brent Case argued the lawsuit is procedurally flawed but he also noted that the plaintiffs in the case, which include two DPS teachers, do not include any at the contested innovation schools.

“The plaintiffs here are employee organizations and three individuals who are not alleged to be employees of innovation schools,” Case said.

Attorney General John Suthers backed DPS in an opinion issued at the request of state education Commissioner Robert Hammond, who sought Suthers’ opinion because the State Board of Education subsequently approved each contested innovation application.

Henry Roman

The Colorado Education Association, the statewide union which includes the DCTA, supported passage of the Innovation Schools Act in 2008. Roman said the Denver union isn’t challenging the idea of innovation schools and that union members support meaningful reform.

“But we couldn’t silently stand on the sidelines while DPS forced innovation status on schools with no regard for the law, or in ways the law never intended,” he said.

Roman said the judge’s ruling clearly supports the majority teacher provision and that the vote occur by secret ballot. So asking teacher candidates during interviews whether they support an innovation plan doesn’t quality, he said.

DPS officials say the votes were taken after the staffs in the schools were assembled and a majority in each school supported the innovation plans.

According to the news release, DCTA is seeking court orders regarding what types of voters must be held for innovation status and whether school districts can create new innovation schools.

What's Your Education Story?

As the 2018 school year begins, join us for storytelling from Indianapolis educators

PHOTO: Dylan Peers McCoy/Chalkbeat
Sarah TeKolste, right, and Lori Jenkins at a Teacher Story Slam, in April.

In partnership with Teachers Lounge Indy, Chalkbeat is hosting another teacher story slam this fall featuring educators from across the city.

Over the past couple of years, Chalkbeat has brought readers personal stories from teachers and students through the events. Some of our favorites touched on how a teacher won the trust of her most skeptical student, why another teacher decided to come out to his students, and one educator’s call to ramp up the number of students pursuing a college education.

The event, 5:30 p.m. Thursday, Sept. 13, is free and open to the public — please RSVP here.

Event details:

5:30 p.m. to 7:30 p.m.
Thursday, Sept. 13, 2018
Tube Factory artspace
1125 Cruft St., Indianapolis, IN 46203
Get tickets here and find more on Facebook

More in What's Your Education Story?

School safety

Hiring more security officers in Memphis after school shootings could have unintended consequences

PHOTO: Jahi Chikwendiu/The Washington Post/Getty Images

Tennessee’s largest district, Shelby County Schools, is slated to add more school resource officers under the proposed budget for next school year.

Superintendent Dorsey Hopson earmarked $2 million to hire 30 school resource officers in addition to the 98 already in some of its 150-plus schools. The school board is scheduled to vote on the budget Tuesday.

But an increase in law enforcement officers could have unintended consequences.

A new state law that bans local governments from refusing to cooperate with federal immigration officials could put school resource officers in an awkward position.

Tennessee Education Commissioner Candice McQueen recently reminded school personnel they are not obligated to release student information regarding immigration status. School resource officers employed by police or sheriff’s departments, however, do not answer to school districts. Shelby County Schools is still reviewing the law, but school board members have previously gone on the record emphasizing their commitment to protecting undocumented students.

“Right now we are just trying to get a better understanding of the law and the impact that it may have,” said Natalia Powers, a district spokeswoman.

Also, incidents of excessive force and racial bias toward black students have cropped up in recent years. Two white Memphis officers were fired in 2013 after hitting a black student and wrestling her to the ground because she was “yelling and cussing” on school grounds. And mothers of four elementary school students recently filed a lawsuit against a Murfreesboro officer who arrested them at school in 2016 for failing to break up a fight that occurred off-campus.

Just how common those incidents are in Memphis is unclear. In response to Chalkbeat’s query for the number and type of complaints in the last two school years, Shelby County Schools said it “does not have any documents responsive to this request.”

Currently, 38 school resource officers are sheriff’s deputies, and the rest are security officers hired by Shelby County Schools. The officers respond and work to prevent criminal activity in all high schools and middle schools, Hopson said. The 30 additional officers would augment staffing at some schools and for the first time, branch out to some elementary schools. Hopson said those decisions will be based on crime rates in surrounding neighborhoods and school incidents.

Hopson’s initial recommendation for more school resource officers was in response to the school shooting in Parkland, Florida, that killed 17 people and sparked a wave of student activism on school safety, including in Memphis.

Gov. Bill Haslam’s recent $30 million budget boost would allow school districts across Tennessee to hire more law enforcement officers or improve building security. Measures to arm some teachers with guns or outlaw certain types of guns have fallen flat.

For more on the role and history of school resource officers in Tennessee, read our five things to know.

Sheriff’s deputies and district security officers meet weekly, said Capt. Dallas Lavergne of the Shelby County Sheriff’s Office. When the Memphis Police Department pulled their officers out of school buildings following the merger of city and county school systems, the county Sheriff’s Office replaced them with deputies.

All deputy recruits go through school resource officer training, and those who are assigned to schools get additional annual training. In a 2013 review of police academies across the nation, Tennessee was cited as the only state that had specific training for officers deployed to schools.