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Judge rules Denver Public Schools must release recording of secret board meeting

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Lindsey Toomer

(Colorado Newsline) A Denver judge ruled that Denver Public Schools must release the entire recording of a March school board meeting where members privately discussed changes to district safety policies, which he ruled a violation of Colorado’s Open Meetings Law.

Denver District Court Judge Andrew J. Luxen ordered the school board to release the recording to the public by Monday at noon, ruling that board members “did engage in substantial discussion” of topics not permitted outside of public view and they failed to properly provide public notice of the meeting. 

The ruling came as part of a lawsuit in which Colorado Newsline and five other Colorado news outlets sued the board for release of the recording, arguing the board violated Colorado open meetings law.

The Denver Public 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 after an East High School student shot and injured two faculty members at the school, the second incidence of gun violence at East this year. 

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Luxen wrote in his ruling that the discussion the board had in secret during the executive session did not comport with the legal justifications it cited in providing notice to the public that it was meeting in private.

After a court hearing last week, Luxen ordered the school district to provide the court with a copy of the recording so that he could review it to determine whether the board members’ discussions were permissible in an executive session. After reviewing the recording of the meeting, he released his decision in favor of the news outlets that filed the lawsuit

A spokesperson for the district said it will appeal the court’s decision. 

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Board of Education Vice President Auon’tai Anderson said he does not support the decision to appeal, arguing that district dollars would be better spent on students

“The decision to appeal should not be a light one and should only be made with the consensus of the board,” Anderson tweeted Friday. “It’s worth noting that the recording in question was created during our executive session, thus raising the question of who has the authority to appeal on behalf of the Board of Education.”

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.

Since the board temporarily reinstated school resources officers, board members voted 4-3 to bring them back to the district permanently.

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.