June 26, 2019

Colorado Court of Appeals: School District had Clear Duty to Obtain Majority Support for Innovation Plans

The Colorado Court of Appeals issued its opinion in Denver Classroom Teachers Association v. City & County of Denver School District No. 1 on Thursday, June 4, 2015.

Innovation Schools Act of 2008—Majority Support—Jurisdiction—CRCP 106(a)(2)—Administrative Procedures Act.

Appellants (collectively, Associations) brought this action claiming that appellees (collectively, DPS) violated the Innovation Schools Act of 2008 by implementing innovation plans at eleven district schools without first obtaining approvals for the plans from the majority of teachers employed at the schools. The district court granted relief with respect to two schools and denied any relief with respect to the remaining nine schools.

On appeal, DPS asserted that the district court lacked jurisdiction to entertain the Associations’ action. CRCP 106(a)(2) specifically authorizes district courts to consider whether to compel a governmental body, board, or officer to perform a duty required of it by law. Therefore, the court had jurisdiction to consider the merits of the Associations’ claims.

DPS also contended that the Associations had another available remedy under the Administrative Procedure Act and failed to exhaust it. However, the state board’s review was limited in scope to determine whether an innovation plan is likely to result in a decrease in academic achievement within the innovation school and whether it is fiscally feasible.Therefore, the Associations could not have challenged the innovation plans on the grounds relied on in the district court or on appeal. Accordingly, the Associations were not required to seek judicial review of the state board’s designations before seeking mandamus relief.

The Associations argued that they had a clear right to relief and DPS had a clear duty to obtain evidence of approval from teachers, staff, and School Accountability Councils (SACs) regarding the innovation plans. Such majority support by a majority of teachers, staff, and SACs is clearly mandated by statute, and this provision applies to both new and existing schools. However, a new school’s innovation plan cannot meet the requirements of subsection 104 of the Innovation Schools Act until the school has commenced operations and its plan has received the necessary majority consents from teachers, administrators employed at the school, and the school’s SAC, which includes parents of students enrolled at the school. As a result, a new school that has neither teachers nor students cannot seek innovation status. Here, DPS failed to obtain majority support with respect to the nine schools at issue. The judgment was affirmed with respect to the two schools and reversed as to the remaining nine schools, and the case was remanded to the district court for further proceedings.

Summary and full case available here, courtesy of The Colorado Lawyer.

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