English initiative decision delayed

DPS backpedals on earlier stance, will hear public forum

Denver school board members backtracked Thursday on last week’s tentative decision to oppose a ballot initiative that would require English learners to be taught in English.

Saying they needed more information on potential legal impacts and other issues, they postponed their final decision until after a Sept. 5 public forum, where the initiative’s supporters and opponents will be invited to speak.

Though the initiative is statewide, it has been of particular concern to DPS.

“Much of the energy of the campaign to date has been focused on DPS, most likely because we have the largest number of English-language learners,” school board President Elaine Berman said.

“So it’s in our best interest to see if it’s going to be helpful or harmful to the district.”

The Secretary of State’s Office certified Thursday that initiative’s supporters gathered enough signatures to put it on the Nov. 5 ballot.

Former Denver school board member Rita Montero, who is spearheading the initiative drive, has said she does not believe the Denver school board’s position will impact the campaign.

But Gully Stanford, an opponent, believes Denver’s response is critical because the district has been a focus of the campaign.

Of special concern to DPS is possible legal impacts – especially when it comes to a process that allows parents to get waivers from the initiative’s requirement that English learners move to regular classes after no more than one year of intensive English.

Berman said four attorneys with ties to the district have concluded the consequences for wrongly granted waivers are so severe that it would be legally inadvisable to use them. Berman called Thursday for an outside legal opinion.

Under the initiative, school officials and employees who “willfully and repeatedly” violate the measure can he held “personally liable” for the students’ attorney’s fees and damages. These fees and damages must be paid out of pocket.

Parents who receive waivers have 10 years to sue if they decide the waivers have been wrongly granted.

Silicon Valley millionaire Ron Unz, who is bankrolling the Colorado initiative campaign, says the ballot language is drafted this way to ensure people obey the law.

“There are a lot of cases where measures pass and voters don’t follow that law, then voters feel annoyed,” he said.

“This initiative is designed not to be ignored.”

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