Boulder Valley school board backs superintendent
Daily Camera News
Feb. 03, 2009



Critics believe Columbine investigation will show discrimination

— Boulder Valley school board members said Tuesday they support the district’s superintendent, even though public complaints about his actions at Columbine Elementary School have launched a federal investigation.

School board members polled by the Camera said they haven’t supported all of Superintendent Chris King’s decisions in his effort to revamp Boulder’s Columbine Elementary. Specifically, board members said, they didn’t back his call for teachers to reapply for their jobs.

“That was a decision that nobody thought was a good decision,” said board member Jim Reed.

But many board members on Tuesday praised King’s maintained focus on improving student performance at Columbine, and some said they think the federal investigation into whether the district discriminated against families and staff members will prove beneficial.

“It’s going to be a difficult process,” Reed said. “But I feel it’s one the district needs to undertake.”

The U.S. Department of Education’s Office for Civil Rights notified the Boulder Valley School District last week that it has received multiple complaints related to Columbine Elementary and has launched an investigation.

The federal letter lists five primary allegations of discrimination against staff members, parents and community members. It alleges the district asked teachers to reapply for their jobs in retaliation for their advocacy of minority students; it discriminated against minority parents in its open-enrollment procedure; it failed to provide translation at meetings; it limited participation in the school’s “visioning” process; and it didn’t follow its policy when hiring a new principal.

Board member Ken Roberge said he believes the investigation will help restore public trust and that the district has been “bending over backwards” to try to avoid discrimination.

“It’s always good to have another pair of eyes on what we’re doing,” Roberge said.

Board President Helayne Jones said King has stayed focused on bettering student achievement, and she thinks the federal investigation is unnecessary.

Board member Jean Paxton also said she supports King’s efforts to improve Columbine. She said he might have made some mistakes, but his intentions were good.

“Chris is doing a great job,” she said. “I think he’s earnest in his efforts to improve proficiency for all children, and it’s better that he does something rather than nothing.”

About the investigation, Paxton said, “I truly don’t think there’s any basis for the complaint.”

Several of the school board members couldn’t be reached for comment Tuesday because they’re out of town.

Jim Bradshaw, spokesman for the U.S. Department of Education’s Office for Civil Rights, said he can’t release the complaints because of privacy laws.

Richard Garcia, chairman of the Boulder Valley Multi-Ethnic Action Community Committee, said he believes the investigation will confirm discrimination. Garcia said he personally knows of several meetings where the Latino community was left out of the conversation.

Mark Chavez, president of the Boulder Valley Education Association — the teachers’ union — said Columbine teachers are concerned that operating agreements weren’t honored.

“They feel this wouldn’t have happened to other schools, like Flatiron and Douglass, because of the community it serves,” he said. The majority of Columbine students speak Spanish as their first language.

Lynn Widger, the principal of Columbine who’ll be replaced at the end of the year, said she decided to leave her post because her husband is ill and she didn’t want to retire in the middle of a school renovation. She said she doesn’t think the district discriminated against the staff in her departure or the hiring of her replacement.

“I was kind of surprised to see that,” she said.