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Judge won’t dismiss DCTA lawsuit

Denver District Court Judge Ann B. Frick on Thursday denied a motion by Denver Public Schools to dismiss a union lawsuit over the approval of nearly a dozen innovation schools.

“DPS was seeking to silence the teachers and ignore their role as partners in creating effective schools by approving innovation schools without their consent,” Henry Roman, president of the Denver Classroom Teachers Association, said in a news release today.

“Our lawsuit is merely seeking to enforce the law, and preserve the voices of our members in creating innovative educational programs.”

Frick’s ruling followed a 90-minute hearing in February. The case is now expected to move to a hearing for preliminary injunction.

DPS spokesman Mike Vaughn said the judge did agree with the district on some issues, though she declined to void the lawsuit. Frick sided with DPS on two of its six claims.

“We are pleased that the judge granted two of our motions to dismiss, and we remain confident that our position, which is backed by the state’s Attorney General and Board of Education, will prevail,” he said.

The Innovation Schools Act of 2008 requires that at least 60 percent of a school’s teachers vote in support of proposed innovation plans, which typically include a waiver of job protections for teachers established through the union-district collective bargaining agreement.

The DCTA is challenging the district’s approval of innovation status for 10 schools, most of them in the city’ Far Northeast during the 2010-11 school year, eight of them existing and two of them new. It also is targeting the innovation status for the teacher-led Green School, approved during the 2009-10 school year. DPS has since approved additional innovation plans.

Union leaders say DPS approved innovation plans without obtaining the support of a majority of teachers and without a vote of any collective bargaining unit to approve waivers. Roman singled out the opening of new schools as innovation schools in his news release, saying it “clearly violates” the majority teacher requirement.

“How can new schools with no employees conduct a teacher vote for innovation status?” he said.

DPS leaders deny they violated the law and say teachers applying to new schools signed on to the innovation plans.

In the February hearing, DPS attorney Brent Case argued the lawsuit is procedurally flawed but he also noted that the plaintiffs in the case, which include two DPS teachers, do not include any at the contested innovation schools.

“The plaintiffs here are employee organizations and three individuals who are not alleged to be employees of innovation schools,” Case said.

Attorney General John Suthers backed DPS in an opinion issued at the request of state education Commissioner Robert Hammond, who sought Suthers’ opinion because the State Board of Education subsequently approved each contested innovation application.

DCTA President Henry Roman
Henry Roman

The Colorado Education Association, the statewide union which includes the DCTA, supported passage of the Innovation Schools Act in 2008. Roman said the Denver union isn’t challenging the idea of innovation schools and that union members support meaningful reform.

“But we couldn’t silently stand on the sidelines while DPS forced innovation status on schools with no regard for the law, or in ways the law never intended,” he said.

Roman said the judge’s ruling clearly supports the majority teacher provision and that the vote occur by secret ballot. So asking teacher candidates during interviews whether they support an innovation plan doesn’t quality, he said.

DPS officials say the votes were taken after the staffs in the schools were assembled and a majority in each school supported the innovation plans.

According to the news release, DCTA is seeking court orders regarding what types of voters must be held for innovation status and whether school districts can create new innovation schools.

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