A Denver judge’s school-voucher decision Friday brought confusion, stress and distress for parents, students and administrators of both public and private schools across Douglas County as they tried Monday to sort out the impact of the court-ordered halt to the program.
Hundreds of parents called the Douglas County School District on Monday, wondering what to do next, spokesman Randy Barber said.
Denver District Judge Michael Martinez issued a permanent injunction Friday, stopping Douglas County schools from implementing the voucher program its board approved in March.
Monday, just about the only certainty was that Martinez’s ruling would be appealed.
“We, and when I say we, I mean the three families we represent, will be appealing,” said Michael Bindas of the Institute for Justice.
Bindas said institute attorneys are considering asking the state Supreme Court to hear the case directly, bypassing the appeals court.
The American Civil Liberties Union and other groups sued to stop the program. Unless the injunction is overturned, the ACLU says, there is no need for the broader suit challenging the constitutionality of the program.
Of the 500 students who planned to participate in what the district calls its Choice Scholarship Program, preliminary payments had been mailed for 265 of them, totaling about $300,000, Barber said. The district intended to make quarterly payments to parents toward private-school tuition, he said.
But whether that money will have to be returned to the district, or to the state, is an unanswered question, Barber said.
“It’s something our lawyers are looking at” and should decide later this week, Barber said. “We know families are waiting for this information.”
A single sentence in the 68-page ruling has left attorneys and district officials scratching their heads: “Plaintiffs have expressly not asked the Court to direct the disenrollment of scholarship recipients already attending Private Partner Schools or the return of funds already expended.”
Beyond that, the judge offered no direction regarding what happens to the money already allocated.
“This has been very difficult for us and very devastating for the kids,” said Terry Martin, academic director for Woodlands Academy in Castle Rock, one of the 23 private schools approved to participate in the voucher program.
When Martin walked into Woodlands on Monday morning, there were two anxious moms — one in tears — waiting for her and wondering where they were going to send their children to school, she said.
Tiny Woodlands Academy, which is dedicated to very small class sizes, expected to have 31 students this year — 12 of whom were transferring in thanks to Douglas County’s voucher program. Woodlands has hired two additional teachers, and, with parents’ donations of time and money, built two new classrooms, Martin said.
Martin said several parents have offered help with scholarships for families that can’t pay the $7,000-a-year tuition without vouchers.
Woodlands still has more than a week before classes begin, but students who must return to Douglas County schools will get a late start on an academic year that, at many schools, began Aug. 1.
What’s more, any student who gave up a spot in a charter school to participate in the voucher program may have trouble reclaiming that seat, as many have waiting lists.
The Colorado Department of Education, which distributes money to school districts based on enrollment, has not weighed in on the money matter, spokeswoman Janelle Asmus said.
Karen Auge, Photo: KSL