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District: Jeffco charter school broke policy in letter to parents that supports recall targets

Candidates for the Jefferson County school board answered questions at a forum hosted by the Colorado League of Charter Schools.
Candidates for the Jefferson County school board answered questions at a forum hosted by the Colorado League of Charter Schools.
Nicholas Garcia

A Jefferson County charter school broke policy against using district communication channels to support or oppose candidates when the school’s executive director sent a letter to parents with information about this fall’s recall election, a district investigation found.

The letter written by Rocky Mountain Academy of Evergreen board president Alan Scheik urges parents to vote in the fall election, notes that the three recall targets voted in favor of equalizing funds for the county’s charter schools and claims the school could be at risk of losing that funding.

The letter sent by email does not identify any candidate by name and does not expressly endorse a “no” vote on the recall.

“We just want to make sure our parents are educated,” said Roberta Harrell, the school’s director. “That’s the way I read it. And I know that was Mr. Scheik’s intention.”

Still, Craig Hess, Jeffco Public Schools’ attorney, in a Monday email to Wendy McCord, the parent who filed the complaint about the letter and organizer behind the recall, said he found the school violated a policy that forbids using school communication channels to “expresses support for or opposition to” candidates in elections.

“We felt the letter went further,” Hess said Tuesday in an interview. “We felt that it provided electoral support for the three existing board of education members.”

Hess declined to discuss what actions the district took in response to the complaint, calling it a personnel matter.

Because charter schools have nonprofit status, they must abide by federal tax and election laws in addition to district policies.

That’s why the Colorado League of Charter Schools regularly sends guidance to its members on election laws, said Stacy Rader, a spokeswoman for the league. That included an email sent Monday with “do’s and don’ts.”

“We believe Rocky Mountain Academy of Evergreen’s intent in crafting this message was simply to encourage community members to be informed voters,” Rader said. “They were trying to follow relevant laws by stating facts and not specifically telling families who to vote for. This is a good lesson for all public schools about the need to be very well-versed on Fair Campaign Practice Act guidelines and to run election-related messaging by an attorney first.”

At a school board candidate forum hosted by the league earlier in September, 11 of the then-12 candidates pledged to maintain equal funding for charter schools.

Scheik’s letter

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