Charmaine Lindsay is running to keep her seat on the Denver school board after being appointed more than a year ago to fill a vacancy.
In her time on the board, Lindsay has been in the majority on votes to reinstate police officers in schools, close three schools with low enrollment, and give Superintendent Alex Marrero a raise. She is a quieter board member who has steered clear of the public infighting that has dogged the board. When she speaks at meetings, she is often blunt and to the point.
A 56-year-old mother and grandmother to one son, three step-children, and 11 grandchildren, all of whom have gone to Denver Public Schools, Lindsay said she’s running because she feels she still has work to do on the board. When she was appointed in June 2022, she said she wouldn’t run when the appointment ended. But Lindsay changed her mind.
“This year has gone by really fast and I haven’t really had a chance to get up the momentum, now that I actually understand how everything works,” Lindsay said. “I feel like I’ve got more knowledge, and I’m ready to go on a lot of issues.”
Three of the seven Denver school board seats are up for grabs Nov. 7. Lindsay, who represents District 5, is one of two incumbents running. She will face two challengers: longtime DPS volunteer and advocate Marlene De La Rosa and DPS parent and former teacher Adam Slutzker.
District 1 board member Scott Baldermann is also running to keep his seat representing southeast Denver.
At stake in the election is how the board will deal with declining enrollment and school closures, as well as how the board will respond to school safety concerns, which were heightened in the wake of a shooting inside East High School this past spring.
Lindsay was not on the school board in 2020 when members voted to remove police officers from Denver schools. But after the East High shooting, she emphatically called for their return.
In a closed-door meeting on March 23, the day after the shooting, Lindsay said two of her grandchildren attend East and “can name at least 20 kids they know that have guns,” according to a recording of the meeting released to Chalkbeat and other media organizations last week.
“I’ve dealt with minority kids who are likely to carry guns, who’ve been in and out of gangs, who are in and out of criminal justice, and these are the kids that would bring a gun to school and might shoot somebody,” Lindsay said in the meeting. “These kids, they should have the police officers there to stop them from doing this to themselves, to stop them from shooting people.”
In an interview, Lindsay said she doesn’t want to see students involved with police for low-level offenses like alcohol or marijuana possession. As the grandmother of Black children, Lindsay said she knows that students of color can be disproportionately targeted by police and that involvement in the criminal justice system can harm a child’s life.
But she said that in her opinion, the school resource officers who were in DPS schools prior to 2020 were “people that the kids could rely on.” She was in favor of putting what she called “safeguards” around their return, including that SROs would not be involved in student discipline. Most of those safeguards were stripped out of the final policy that passed in June.
By trade, Lindsay is a family law attorney. She said she has been practicing law out of her home since 1996 and that all of her clients are low-income. She handles divorce and child custody cases, evictions, restraining orders, and has begun representing students outside Denver in expulsion hearings. She does some work for free and other clients pay what they can, she said.
Two of her grandchildren live with her and attend DPS schools, one at Stedman Elementary and the other at McAuliffe International School, Lindsay said.
If elected, her priorities would be pushing DPS to increase the number of students of color identified as gifted and talented, close academic gaps between students of color and white students, and hire more teachers of color, Lindsay said.
The board may face more school closure decisions due to declining enrollment, an outcome Lindsay said she accepts. “The reality is we’re not going to have any choice,” she said.
“What my goal is in doing it better than we did it last time is to have town halls, is to talk to people, is to get ideas and to bring the schools into discussing what to do from their perspective instead of us telling them what to do,” Lindsay said.
Lindsay describes her education politics as more “traditionalist,” though she supports some issues championed by education reformers. She’s a strong supporter of school choice, she said, but for a more practical reason than the oft-cited philosophy that parents should get to choose the school that best fits their children’s needs.
For many of Lindsay’s clients, school choice allows a family to give their child educational stability even if the family frequently moves or the parents live in different neighborhoods.
Lindsay was new to education politics when she was appointed to the board. She said she was recruited by a family friend, Hashim Coates, who worked on the campaigns of other board members, including Scott Esserman and Auon’tai Anderson, and is now working on Lindsay’s campaign. Esserman, Anderson, and board member Michelle Quattlebaum were most supportive of Lindsay’s appointment.
But Lindsay has voted against Esserman, Anderson, and Quattlebaum on some key issues, such as reinstating SROs. Lindsay emphasized that she makes up her own mind.
“I have not made a decision that I have not put a lot of research into,” she said. “I’ve made well-informed decisions on what I think is in the best interest of the kids in DPS. My heart is with the kids and the teachers and the schools.”
Editor’s Note: This story was updated after the ballot was finalized with the names of all candidates running for the District 5 seat.
Melanie Asmar is a senior reporter for Chalkbeat Colorado, covering Denver Public Schools. Contact Melanie at firstname.lastname@example.org.