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Denver school district appeals judge’s ruling that ordered release of secret board meeting recording

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Lindsey Toomer

(Colorado Newsline) Denver Public Schools appealed a judge’s ruling that ordered the district to release a recording of a March school board meeting where members privately discussed changes to district safety policies.

The appeal filed Monday asks the Colorado Court of Appeals to review whether Denver District Court Judge Andrew J. Luxen erred in determining that the Board of Education violated Colorado’s Open Meetings Law. The ruling stemmed from a lawsuit in which Colorado Newsline and five other Colorado news outlets sued the board for release of the recording.

The Denver schools Board of Education met on March 23 and, with no public discussion, after meeting in private during a so-called executive session for five hours, unanimously adopted a new policy temporarily bringing armed police officers back to the district. The decision came a day after an East High School student shot and injured two faculty members at the school, the second instance of gun violence at East this year. The board has since voted to bring armed officers back to schools permanently.

Under the Colorado Open Meetings Law, a public body like a school board can meet in secret under specific circumstances, but officials, before shutting out the public, must cite the specific exemption and announce the “particular topic” they intend to discuss. And the law says that “No adoption of any proposed policy, position, resolution, rule, regulation, or formal action … shall occur at any executive session that is not open to the public.”

Rachael Johnson, a Reporters Committee for Freedom of the Press attorney who represents the media coalition, said the facts of the case and relevant law clearly point to a violation. She said the coalition’s legal team plans to oppose the district’s request to stay the release of the recording “as strongly as we can.”

“Until we get this decision from the Court of Appeals on whether or not DPS can stay the district court’s judgment, the recording won’t be released,” Johnson said. 

Denver schools’ appeal also asks the appeals court to determine whether the district court “revealed details of the content of the Executive Session that went beyond the DPS Board of Education’s announcement in the order directing its release, frustrating DPS’ rights of appeal.” Luxen’s order said board members engaged in “substantial discussion” of topics not properly noticed or permitted in private. “There was lengthy discussion of general security arrangements … including the return of school resource officers to Denver public schools,” Luxen wrote, using another term for armed police.

Johnson said it’s hard to say when a decision from the Court of Appeals will come but that the district’s actions are telling. 

“There’s something in there they don’t want public,” Johnson said. 

The lawsuit’s plaintiffs include Newsline, The Denver Post, Colorado Politics/The Denver Gazette, KDVR Fox 31, Chalkbeat Colorado and KUSA 9News. Each of the news outlets had filed a request under the Colorado Open Records Act for the executive session recording and were denied.

Colorado Newsline is part of States Newsroom, a network of news bureaus supported by grants and a coalition of donors as a 501c(3) public charity. Colorado Newsline maintains editorial independence. Contact Editor Quentin Young for questions: Follow Colorado Newsline on Facebook and Twitter.