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Notification rule in hands of Denver judge

A judge’s decision is the next step in the legal fight between the Colorado Education Association and the State Board of Education over the state regulation requiring school districts notify parents when employees are arrested for certain crimes.


Chief Denver District Judge Robert Hyatt heard four hours of legal arguments and testimony Friday before telling lawyers, “I will provide you with a written order” on whether he’ll issue an injunction to put the rule on ice pending further review.

At issue is the notification regulation approved unanimously by SBE on April 14 after more than a year of debate and revisions (see story).

The CEA filed suit challenging the law on July 8, citing a laundry list of legal reasons why the rule should be struck down, including 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 (see story).

The union also requested an injunction to prohibit enforcement of the rule and for court review of whether the regulation is legal. The injunction request was the focus of Friday’s hearing.

Legal arguments by lawyers from the CEA staff and the attorney general’s office focused on the issues raised in written document.

Bard Bartels of CEA argued, “Essentially the board has made an end run around” existing laws and constitutional requirements.

The CEA believes notification would stigmatize teachers who are accused but later have charges dropped or are acquitted in court. The rule creates “a scarlet letter,” Bartels said. “A is for allegation. Once that letter is there it cannot be removed.”

Assistant Attorney General Jonathan Fero (also a key player in the state’s defense of the Lobato v. State funding adequacy case) said the rule “protects children” and “gives parents information they need.”

Fero added, “If this rules goes away, child safety and parent confidence will suffer.”

Lawyers for CEA called two witnesses, Academy 20 safety director Larry Borland and Ronald Anderson, a union staff member in a unit that serves members in nine northern Colorado districts.

Borland said the rule is unclear and impractical to enforce. Anderson focused on the potential unfairness of the rule to teachers who are falsely accused. “It’s hard to unring that bell of an accusation.”

Bob Schaffer, chair of the State Board of Education / File photo

Bob Schaffer, chair, State Board of Education / File photo

The state called three witnesses, including SBE Chair Bob Schaffer, R-4th District and the moving force behind the rule. Schaffer said he believes the rule actually enhances local control of schools because it gives more information to parents, whom he called the “owners” and “bosses” of school districts.

Also testifying in support of the bill were Patrick Albright, a member of the Poudre schools board, and Shannon Yockey, a Fort Collins child and family therapist who said she’s worked with abuse victims.

The suit is the third key education dispute to be heard in Denver District Court in the last two months. In addition to Lobato, a Denver judge heard a challenge to the Douglas County vouchers and issued a ruling halting the program.

What the regulation requires

The new rule, named 1 CCR 301-87 in administrative jargon, applies to arrests or charging of employees and former school employees whose jobs require them to be in contact with students. In most cases, notice to parents must be given within 24 hours of a school learning of an arrest.

Notification is required in cases involving any felony, drug crimes (except for misdemeanor marijuana arrests), misdemeanor and municipal violations involving 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 rule contains no enforcement or reporting requirements so districts essentially will be on the honor system in using it. The rule went into effect May 31.