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Our View: Ascent not clear on being equitable

Application didn’t articulate how to include most vulnerable students

The ride from Ascent Classical Academy of Durango’s initial interest in becoming a charter school to School District 9-R board’s denial of its application has been bumpy, fast and furious. The Durango Herald’s readers responded passionately, whether for or against, in letters elevating discussions on moral education, diversity, secular curriculums, traditional methods, the separation of church and state, and more.

Curiously, most made arguments based on one main point. Yet, it wasn’t one or two or three positions that tanked ACAD’s application. District staffers found that just eight of 35 criteria met district rubric standards, and along with the District Accountability Advisory Committee's Charter Review Committee, recommended against approving ACAD’s application, saying it “was not in the best interest of the students, the community and the district.” We agree and fully support 9-R.

The board, staffers and committee members logged hundreds of hours reviewing the application on a tight 30-day deadline. In fairness, the board highlighted benefits of a classical education model. Still, it’s not a good fit. ACAD didn’t show that it’s equitable. In the Herald on Wednesday, June 15, Kristin Smith, school board president said, “It does not address the needs of those most vulnerable in our community, and we as a board have to take that into consideration.”

We’re glad the board did because as a district, as a community, who are we if we don’t support and protect our most vulnerable, including special education students, those who don’t speak English as a first language, LGBTQ students and schoolchildren who live in poverty?

Any charter school in 9-R would be public. Yet, ACAD supporters presented themselves as a unified force of likeminded parents intent on a specific, narrowly defined educational experience that does not come across as public. It’s been reported multiple times that ACAD’s curriculum comes from Hillsdale College, a conservative Christian school in Michigan. The school board’s resolution in denying ACAD’s application says, “Hillsdale’s ideological bent is apparent from its website, where articles such as ‘The January 6 Insurrection Hoax,’ ‘The Disaster at Our Southern Border,’ ‘Critical Race Theory: What It Is and How to Fight It,’ ‘Gender Ideology Run Amok,’ and ‘Science, Politics, and COVID: Will Truth Prevail?’ are accessible.”

Also in the resolution, the classical curriculum “appears to be extremely Eurocentric and focused on Caucasian history and philosophy, with minimal incorporation of other peoples and their contributions.” This is not who we are. We are a diverse community.

No doubt, it’s comfortable to be with likeminded people. But that’s not the best of what public education offers.

Attending public school ensures students have the opportunities to meet people who are not like them. You can argue that this is good or bad. But it’s significant in opening our eyes to how other families live and developing broad worldviews. Research supports this. The National Coalition on School Diversity’s studies show going to public schools that are racially, culturally and economically diverse is beneficial long past high school graduation.

Education is truly a great equalizer in this country. This is a beautiful thing.

ACAD has 30 days to appeal to the state Board of Education. “We are currently reviewing our options,” said Derec Shuler, executive director of Ascent Classical Academies.

How we educate our children is a personal, family decision. We support alternative choices. If up to 600 families are really behind ACAD, we encourage them to open a private school.

One benefit of ACAD’s efforts is how we started conversations about what matters in an education, what can be peeled away. We just know that for a charter school to be public, it must clearly define how it would include all of our students. Especially those who are most vulnerable.