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Colorado Board of Education directs Durango School District 9-R to review charter application

Executive meeting being scheduled for later this week
The Colorado Board of Education directed Durango School District 9-R to reconsider its decision declining to review Ascent Classical Academies’ charter school application ahead of Aug. 1. The district and school board have said Aug. 1 is their designated submission date for charter applications, but as the state board notes, the policy clearly says “on or before” the date in question. (Durango Herald file)

Ascent Classical Academies, the charter school interested in establishing a school in Durango, achieved a minor victory against Durango School District 9-R last week after the state Board of Education directed the school district to review Ascent’s charter application within 30 days.

Ascent asked the school district to review its charter application before the standard review window opens on Aug. 1, but Karen Cheser, superintendent, and the school board declined to reconsider their position.

Board members said the district’s policy doesn’t allow for early review of charter applications, but Derec Shuler, CEO of Ascent Classical Academies, pointed out that the verbiage of the district’s policy clearly says on or before Aug. 1.

Ascent filed an appeal to the state Board of Education in March to override the school district’s refusal to review its charter application.

The state Board of Education appears to agree with Shuler’s interpretation of the school district’s policy about charter application submissions.

A board order signed by Angelika Schroeder, state Board of Education chairwoman, instructing Durango School District 9-R to reconsider its decision about reviewing Ascent’s charter application says:

“As relevant here, the policy sets an August 1st deadline for applications but expressly allows applications ‘on or before’ that date. Further, the policy expressly states that the local board ‘shall make a decision ... within 90 days after receiving the initial charter application from the charter applicant,’ and nothing in the policy suggests that the word ‘receiving’ is used in anything other than its ordinary sense. Although the State Board will give appropriate deference to the local board’s interpretation of its own policies, the interpretation urged here is unreasonable.”

Additionally, the board order says the school district’s decision to forego early review of Ascent’s charter application “was contrary to the best interests of the pupils, school district or community.”

Kim Gilmartin, director of new school development and outreach for Ascent, said in a news release that the Durango community has shown the charter school “overwhelming support” in its attempt to establish itself in the Durango area.

“We remain hopeful the district will drop its legal actions against Ascent Classical and work with us to complete a fair review to ensure a strong opening for children in the Durango Community,” she said.

Gilmartin said in an email to The Durango Herald on Tuesday afternoon that Ascent Classical Academies is “looking forward to a fair evaluation from the local board and appreciate(s) the State Board's agreement on the legal submission of our application.”

Karla Sluis, spokeswoman for the school district, said the district is considering its next steps. She said the school board is scheduling an executive session for later this week to determine its next move. The school board will release information about its decision after the meeting, Sluis said.

cburney@durangoherald.com

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