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CEA challenges arrest-notice rule

The Colorado Education Association has filed suit challenging the recent State Board of Education rule requiring school districts to notify parents when school employees are arrested.

CEA, the state’s largest teachers union, repeatedly raised concerns about the rule during the more than a year of sporadic board discussion before the rule was finally approved.

The suit, filed in Denver District Court, asks for an injunction to prohibit enforcement of the rule and for court review of whether the regulation is legal.

The rule, approved unanimously by the board on April 14, applies to arrests or charging of employees and former employees whose jobs require them to be in contact with students. In most cases, notice must be given within 24 hours of a school learning of an arrest. The requirement went into effect May 31.

Notification is required in cases involving any felony, drug crimes (except for misdemeanor marijuana charges), misdemeanor and municipal violations related to children, misdemeanor and municipal ordinance violations involving unlawful sexual behavior of various kinds, and any crime of violence. Drunken driving arrests are included if an employee’s duties involve transporting students in motor vehicles.

The suit says, “The effect of the Rule will cause undue fear and unrest for the parents of the students enrolled in the subject school, unnecessarily undermines the employee’s ability to perform his or her duties in the school, and tarnishes the employee’s reputation.”

The complaint cites a laundry list of legal reasons why the rule should be struck down but focuses on the arguments that the SBE doesn’t have the authority to issue such a rule, that the rule infringes on school board powers and that the rule conflicts with a variety of state laws governing school safety and release of criminal records.

The suit also argues that the rule is riddled with inconsistencies. One example cited in the suit is that “The rule provides that if the school learns that a prosecutor formally declines to file charges or dismisses the charges, the school shall send a letter notifying parents of the dismissal. … However, the rule is silent for situations where the employee was acquitted by a jury or the court. It is also silent as to whether a school district must send a letter to parents if they learn that the arrest of an employee was in error or the employee arrested was released without being charged.”

A version of the rule was first proposed by SBE Chair Bob Schaffer in February 2010, prompted by two 2009 incidents in which the Poudre School District didn’t notify parents about the arrests of two employees. Those cases have been extensively covered in the Fort Collins media.

Schaffer, a former congressman and unsuccessful GOP Senate candidate, is a Fort Collins resident and principal of Liberty Common Charter High School.

The board defeated Schaffer’s proposal on a 3-4 vote in May 2010. He revived the idea early this year, and the board passed an amended version at its April meeting (see story).

CEA is not the only organization that objects to the idea. Representatives of the Colorado Association of School Boards and the Colorado Association of School Executives repeatedly told board members they don’t believe it has the legal authority to impose such a requirement on school districts.

An interesting twist to the rule is that it contains no enforcement or reporting requirements so districts essentially will be on the honor system in using it.

The CEA lawsuit adds to the growing list of Colorado education issues now on court dockets. Two legal challenges recently were filed against the Douglas County Schools’ planned voucher program (stories), and the Denver Classroom Teachers’ Association has filed suit against the district over its use of the innovation schools law (story).

Trial on a major suit challenging the adequacy of Colorado’s school finance system, Lobato v. State, opens in Denver District Court on Aug. 1. A suit challenging 2010 reforms in the Public Employees’ Retirement Association, which covers thousands of educators, recently was thrown out (read judge’s order), and a suit challenging the Taxpayer’s Bill of Rights was filed last month in U.S. District Court. Several education leaders are among the plaintiffs (story).

And, of course, former University of Colorado professor Ward Churchill has an appeal of his firing pending before the Colorado Supreme Court.

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