School district accountability dispute flares up at meeting | AspenTimes.com

School district accountability dispute flares up at meeting

Jennifer Davoren

A feud over accountability in the Aspen School District, which many teachers dismissed Monday as a “witch hunt,” has led a parent to request an extensive list of district records.

Aspen resident Carrie Morgridge defended her request of what she could only estimate as “a lot” of records as a move she feels is in the best interest of students. The request includes budget and performance review information.

“This is all about kids and about why can’t we be the best [school district] in the state or the best in the nation,” said Morgridge, a mother of two middle school students.

She said the request was a last resort and was made only because she found it difficult to communicate with district officials.

“We’ve been working through the system, but there has been absolutely zero change. Now it’s time to make a stand,” said Morgridge, part of a family that has donated money to valley- and statewide education endeavors. “We don’t trust the system. We think there’s something going on – we think they’re hiding something. The only people that are very upset about the request are the people we were interested the most in.”

During Monday night’s meeting of the Aspen school board, members of the Aspen Education Association – an organization of local teachers – were able to air their opinions regarding Morgridge’s request.

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AEA president Andy Popinchalk spoke on behalf of the association, reading directly from a letter addressed to the school board. The letter details the apparent roots of the accountability fight, which began when a group of angry parents attended a February school board meeting to discuss problems they saw within the district.

“Some weeks ago, a group of parents with concerns about leadership and programs in the schools approached the school board at an open meeting,” the AEA letter begins. “Since that meeting, however, a very small sub-group of individuals has begun a campaign of criticism, innuendo, harassment, and now, legal intimidation aimed directly at some administrators and, increasingly, at teachers and programs.”

The AEA letter called Morgridge’s request, and her actions leading to the request last week, a distraction from the school’s normal routine and responsible for “creating an atmosphere of mistrust, contention and uncertainty.”

“Quite simply, ladies and gentlemen of the board, this group is engaged in a witch hunt of the worst sort: undefined motives, vague aspersions, opinions stated as facts, and a complete disregard for the collateral effects of their actions,” the letter states.

The letter states that Morgridge’s information request included a “demand” for “three years’ worth of U.S. mail, courier deliveries, and e-mail regarding 21 different items.”

“A number of the items described in the letter pertain to teachers, programs, and potentially confidential information,” the letter says.

Jeri Lynn Mourning, the mother of an Aspen High student, echoed the AEA’s statements, calling the information request a “petty political ploy” that threatened the privacy of district students.

“Do they have any inkling of the world children today live in?” Mourning asked.

Popinchalk finished the AEA letter with a plea that parents looking to affect change in the district should do so not through an aggressive group, but with district officials.

“Change, improvement and growth must not be dictated by a self-appointed few; rather such things must be the product of a constructive, thoughtful and collective effort,” the letter concludes.

School board member Fred Peirce said Monday that Morgridge’s request has been forwarded to the school district’s attorney for review. The review, Peirce said, will ensure that the request does not violate confidentiality laws of students or personnel, and that the handling of the request falls within the guidelines of the Colorado Open Records Act.

Morgridge said she was told she would receive 90 percent of the requested materials by noon on April 29, in accordance with open records laws. She said she will review the information and then help bring areas of concern to light.

“I really am doing this to improve public information and bring awareness to this situation,” she said. “This is about the kids.”

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