Civil Liberties, Douglas County, Education, Exclusives, Featured, Sherrie Peif

Douglas County school being ousted over armed staff calls foul over district’s post-contract policy change

LONE TREE — The executive director of Ascent Classical Academies says although he does not believe his school is violating its contract with the Douglas County School District (DCSD), he is willing to negotiate with it to become authorized through the Charter School Institute (CSI) instead.

Derec Shuler told Complete Colorado that the school district arbitrarily changed a policy since Ascent’s contract was negotiated and signed in 2017, and it now expects the school to follow that new policy.

DCSD officials did not respond to specific questions about the situation. Paula Hans, public information officer for the district, instead, sent a link to what she said was the only thing the district was saying.

The school is being asked to leave the district because it allows any staff member who has gone through appropriate training to carry and conceal a handgun and act as security for the school.

Derec Shuler

Shuler said Ascent asked for and received, a waiver from the district for a separate policy that directly deals with arming staff. Under state law, the Charter School does not have to ask the district to allow its staff to conceal carry.

Douglas County Superintendent Thomas Tucker, who is in his second year with DCSD, doesn’t agree. He told Ascent to leave the district just days after he told a state school safety committee that he would not allow any charter school in his district to allow its staff to be armed.

About 500 students currently attend the K-12 Classical Education Academy, which is in its second year as a public charter school under DCSD, having been authorized for operation by the district in 2017.

Shuler said he’s willing to have the discussion about becoming authorized under CSI instead, but the school district should still be responsible for sharing mill levy override (MLO) funding under the original agreement, an amount that exceeds more than $500,000 per year, Shuler said.

According to the contract signed Aug. 1, 2017 (which runs through the 2022-2023 school year), Ascent got a waiver from the district policy that prohibited armed staff.

The contract reads in part: “The School shall comply with the Colorado Safe Schools Act and complete the required information annually by the end of August. The School shall submit the information to the individual or office designated in advance by the District. The School and District will determine the party responsible for communicating the information to local first responders.”

However, it appears that since the Ascent Board of Education approved armed staff at its June 22, 2018 meeting, at least one member of the Douglas County School District Board of Education has been looking for ways around Colorado Statute.

On Aug. 24. 2018, Anne Marie LeMieux sent an email to Tucker that said in full:

AML Email 20180824 by Sherrie A Peif on Scribd

“I am firm (no friendly about it) in my absolute disapproval of arming staff. District policy states only those with “armed” in their job description are allowed to carry firearms — that includes trained security.

I expect compliance — period. Please research immediately if they received a waiver of this policy and if they did — do we have any recourse. (sic)”

Shuler said his board was notified last year not to arm staff or they would shut the school down. But nothing came of the threat after attorneys for both Ascent and DCSD agreed Ascent was within its rights, Shuler said.

Then, on Dec. 13, 2018, the Board of Education revised a policy from which Ascent had not requested a waiver. That revision strengthened the district’s position on armed staff and is the basis of Tucker’s belief he can close Ascent down.

From its inception in 2002, the recently revised policy–known as ADD–was an eight-point policy about school safety issues that read in part:

“The Board, in consultation with the District Advisory Committee and parents, teachers, administrators, students, student councils and when appropriate, members of the community, has adopted the following policies and procedures as part of the District’s safe schools plan.”

School staffers being trained. Photo credit: Sherrie Peif/sherrie@completecolorado.com

It included things such as student conduct and discipline, school safety reporting requirements, staff security and safety, crisis management, and school visitors among other things.

The newly revised ADD is now an 18-point policy that reads in part:

“Safe schools are a priority of the district and the district is committed to providing a safe environment in school, on school vehicles and at school-sponsored activities. To that end, the Board directs the superintendent to develop and maintain a safe schools plan.”

The new policy includes one specific point that Shuler said is wording taken from the policy the school is exempted from. It reads:

“Procedures for the employment, training and use of armed security officers to provide security of school buildings, events and grounds, including requirements that: any armed security officer be employed solely for security purposes; that any armed security officer be P.O.S.T. certified (certified by Peace Officer Standards and Training); and, that uniformed armed security not be allowed to conceal their weapons while engaging in their duties.”

Shuler said originally ADD was a statement not needing a waiver, now it’s a directive.

“They fundamentally changed the nature of this policy,” Shuler said. “They took the language that defines armed staff and put in new policy when they realized we had a waiver from the other one. And now they’re claiming we are in violation of our contract. What good is a contract if you can just move content and create a new policy.”

Shuler said he is optimistic an agreement can be worked out, but he wants that to include MLO money the charter school is entitled to under its original contract.

“We are still going to educate Douglas County kids,” Shuler said. “They still should have to fund Douglas County kids. We are working with them to leave the district, but it has to be a fair deal that protects the kids. At the end of the day, it’s adult issues that have to get solved. If we do get to that, we’re going to have a very public conversation on how they’ve changed the policy and their claim that they can make those changes.”

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