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Adams 14 Troubles Revealed; Jeffco, Colorado Can Work to Overcome

Yesterday I got to share some good education news. Today it’s something different. I probably should have done it the other way around, because it’s better to end the week on a high note (why is it that lately when I use the term “high note,” some big people start laughing and telling jokes about Colorado?).

When looking at this April 25 report from the U.S. Department of Education, the laughter stops. According to the report, Adams County School District 14 leaders spent four years disregarding serious claims about hostile discrimination against Hispanic students, parents, and staff members.

Zahira Torres shone the light on the extent of the problem in Wednesday’s Denver Post. The story contains more examples than I can recount in this space. But they include incidents such as:

  • A student’s injury being dismissed because he spoke in Spanish
  • “An incident in which the principal at Hanson yelled at students, including kindergartners in the cafeteria, telling them to speak English in order to ask for assistance and food even though the kindergartners did not speak English.”
  • Spanish-speaking parents given less time and consideration at teacher conferences

The Education Policy Center’s fantastically useful Opcion Escolar para Ninos site may have helped some local parents and students, by showing educational options outside the district and how to take advantage of them. But that couldn’t solve the problem for most.

If the numerous stories are to be believed, the good news is the District 14 leadership from that time is gone. The concerning news is that the then-superintendent has relocated into a senior administrative position in Jeffco Public Schools. The Post reports that Sue Chandler received a $700,000 legal settlement from her former employer as she was hired under the tenure of the former Jeffco superintendent.

Meanwhile, the infamous achievement gaps for racial minorities persist throughout many parts of Colorado. Though overt hostility may not be the norm in a place like Jeffco, other all-too-real challenges are prevalent. Numbers show most of the largely Hispanic student populations in Alameda and Jefferson high schools, for example, are falling short of basic reading and math skills needed to succeed.

I don’t want to get mired down in the sad news. While some may want to use the federal report on Adams 14 simply to tell victim stories, I would like to focus attention on how Colorado leaders can expand educational opportunities and how more students of any race or background can seize those opportunities and succeed.

Harsh stories like the one featured in the Post are not pleasant medicine, especially for a Friday, but they can help remind us of problems that Adams 14, Jeffco, and the whole state of Colorado can work to overcome.