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Denver Public Schools loses another charter school appeal

The Colorado State Board of Education Wednesday rejected the Denver Public Schools board’s June denial of a charter school application centered on the needs of Black students and sent the application back to the district for reconsideration.

The DPS board rejected three charter applications in June. Only one of those schools, 5280 Freedom School, decided to appeal the denial. Under state law, the DPS board has little choice but to approve the application and allow the school to open.

The proposed school is intended “to celebrate and nurture Black excellence; to develop Black scholars, through culturally responsive teachings, into high-achieving independent thinkers and leaders; and to honor, in our community, the lived experiences of Black learners and educators,” founder Branta Lockett, wrote on Boardhawk earlier this year.

The DPS board’s two Black members, Michelle Quattlebaum and Tay Anderson, supported the 5280 Freedom School application during the June vote.

This marks the second consecutive State Board of Education rebuff of a DPS charter school application denial. In November 2020, the board ordered DPS to reconsider its denial of the DSST Rachel Noel High School’s 2021 opening.

DPS staff argued before the state board that the 5280 Freedom School application had serious issues with enrollment, facility, and budgetary projections, and therefore, in the interest of prospective parents, the application should be denied. 

To approve the school would run the risk of leaving parents high and dry in a few years should the school fail and be forced to close, they said.

By a 5-2 vote, state board members soundly rejected those arguments. “I can almost cite in my sleep the same reasons given by every district to turn down a charter school,” said board member Steve Durham, a Colorado Springs Republican. 

“The budget doesn’t work. They can’t take care of special ed kids. The enrollments are unrealistic or not proven or we don’t have enough Letters of Intent signed, or whatever. And the reality is…these are all chicken and egg arguments.”

Durham said all of those arguments are “predicated on the idea that parents are too stupid to figure out what’s best for their own children…Yes, some schools will close and yes, it will be painful and this could this will be one of them. However, parents have the right to make choices. And by definition, that means sooner or later, some of them are going to make mistakes.”

It’s also undeniable, Durham said, that district-run public schools in Denver and elsewhere are failing to serve “a very high percentage of our children.”

Board member Rebecca McLellan, a Democrat, said 5280 Freedom School offers a unique model in “centering the experiences of black students. It takes us away from trying the same thing over and over again and expecting a different result. It gives families and students a chance to try something that they feel will work better for their students.”

And board chair Angelika Schroeder, also a Democrat, rejected the DPS argument that enrollment declines in Denver doom the proposed charter to failure. “There are enough kids around. You just need to convince parents that what you’re offering them is at least as high quality as enabling schools and ideally greater quality,” Schroeder said.