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Amid calls to apologize, Adams 14 board pledges better handling of public criticism

Javier Abrego, superintendent of Adams 14 School District, speaks to parents at a forum April 17, 2018. (Photo by Hyoung Chang/The Denver Post)
Javier Abrego, superintendent of Adams 14 School District, speaks to parents at a forum April 17, 2018. (Photo by Hyoung Chang/The Denver Post)

The Adams 14 school board on Tuesday pledged to do better when handling public comment. What they didn’t do, despite pressure, was apologize to the person they escorted out of their last meeting.

Two weeks earlier, board president Connie Quintana asked a police officer to remove the head of the state association for bilingual education, Jorge Garcia. At the time, Garcia had been criticizing district staff about poor academic performance, among other matters.

Tuesday’s remarks on the incident didn’t come from Quintana, but from the newest board member, Sen. Dominick Moreno, who was appointed over the summer in part for his ability to build bridges in the community. Moreno acknowledged things could have been handled better and said “hopefully they will be.” He noted that the board wants to encourage criticism and would like to create a “safe and welcoming environment for all.”

He added: “We do ask that people refrain from personal attacks. It’s fine if you use names, but please keep comments as constructive as possible.”

Adams 14 is on a state-mandated improvement plan after failing to raise student performance for eight years in a row, and the district faces a check-in later this fall after again failing to improve ratings. The struggling district is in the process of considering a long-range plan and also how to rehabilitate its image in the community.

When Garcia, the executive director of the Colorado Association for Bilingual Education, was interrupted two weeks ago, Quintana told him to avoid using staff names — a common request from the board. But when Garcia continued, he was stopped again as Quintana said his comments were not constructive.

An officer then escorted him out despite his complaints.

Since that incident, the seven-member board of Garcia’s association and the American Civil Liberties Union of Colorado have requested apologies from the school board.

After Moreno’s brief preface to the public comment section, Quintana was about to call the speakers when board member Bill Hyde interrupted and asked if the board was going to respond to the ACLU letter.

Others on the board exchanged nervous glances as Superintendent Javier Abrego shook his head to indicate no. Then Moreno broke the silence and said he was sure the district would respond. When Hyde pressed on, Quintana asked for comment from the lawyer, who said he would write a response as soon as he had time.

Some speakers during Tuesday’s public comment said that response was not good enough.

Garcia, who was also at the meeting and spoke to the board, uninterrupted, said the apology was “not about me or my feelings and it’s not about you or your feelings, it’s about the students. What happened on 9-11 in this boardroom was not a single isolated incident. … It was an attack on the entire community.”

Earlier this year Adams 14 contracted with a consultant, Team Tipton, to help the district “transform the relationships and interactions” that the district has with various community groups. The district last year faced community backlash over several changes it made — including canceling parent-teacher conferences, cutting recess times, and pausing a roll out of biliteracy programs.

The $25,200 contract runs through the end of September and covers the first phase of work. The contract (read it below) states the group would assess the situation, design a community engagement process, and develop an action plan. That plan is in the works, and a presentation of a proposed next phase could come before the board next month.

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